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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Pier to cost millions to restore
The buildings on the pier have collapsed into the sea

The section of the world's longest pleasure pier which was gutted by fire is to be rebuilt - even though it could cost millions of pounds.

The damage to Southend Pier was a serious blow to the town, said borough council leader Anna Waite.

She added: "We will be looking to restore it to its former glory. It's a very sad day and the pier will cost millions of pounds to rebuild."

A pub, a railway station and other buildings were destroyed in the fire.

Eyewitnesses said flames leapt 30 to 40ft in the air as the inferno engulfed up to 130ft of the pier, and the blaze could be seen for miles.

This has come as a huge blow to the town. It is early days but we will reinstate the pier
Southend Borough Council chief executive
McGinty's pub, a restaurant, shops and toilet facilities collapsed into the Thames Estuary, taking part of the pier's wooden floor with them.

Cab driver Dave Watts told BBC Radio Five Live that the fire had been "absolutely huge".

Police said an investigation into the cause of the fire would be carried out as soon as it was safe for experts to begin work.

The blaze, the fourth on the pier in 40 years, started at about 2240 BST on Sunday.

A spokesman said the fire had caused severe damage to a pub, rail station and planking on part of the pier but he said it was too early to speculate about its cause.

The fire at Southend Pier
The fire could be seen for miles along the Essex coast

Southend Borough Council chief executive Rob Tinlin estimated the authority had spent 8-9m on the pier in the past five years.

"This has come as a huge blow to the town. It is early days but we will reinstate the pier. This'll probably take over a year rather than months as it's not quite clear yet how extensive the damage is," he said.

Mr Tinlin praised the emergency services who had encountered "challenging conditions" in reaching the fire, which was about a mile from the shore.

About 75 fire fighters worked through the night to control the blaze.

He said crews had either walked the length of the pier or used a train which normally shuttles tourists to reach the scene and initial efforts to extinguish the blaze were hampered by the fact that the tide was out and the pier's water pumps could not be used.

Sadly it looks as though we're in for a horrible business once again
Former Southend MP Sir Teddy Taylor
Four RNLI crews ferried the firefighters and their equipment to different parts of the pier.

At 1.34 miles (2.16km), Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world. It opened in 1889, with extensions added in 1898, 1908 and 1929.

In 1959 a blaze destroyed the Pier Pavilion at the shore end. Then in 1976 a fire destroyed most of the 1908 Pier Head.

Ten years later the MV Kingsabbey sliced through the pier between the Old and the New Pier Heads, severing the lifeboat slipway and irreparably damaging the boathouse.

In 1995 fire struck again, this time destroying the bowling alley which had replaced the old Pier Pavilion.

All train services to the Pier Head were cut, access to the walkway was severed and railway tracks were damaged, but the pier re-opened to the public after only three weeks.

A new RNLI-funded lifeboat station - which was not damaged in Sunday's fire - was completed in August 2001.

Former Southend MP Sir Teddy Taylor told BBC Five Live: "It's sad because it's one of the great assets we've got in Southend.

"It's a great place to walk down, it's a great opportunity for people to enjoy themselves. But sadly it looks as though we're in for a horrible business once again."

Did you witness the fire at Southend Pier? Send us your comments using the form below. You can send any footage or pictures you may have to yourpics@bbc.co.uk

Got a text from a colleague at 0110 to tell me the pier was alight. Upon looking out of my bedroom window it was clear that the entire seaward train station, arcades, McGinty's pub and Mariotts Restaurant, were well alight. The ominous orange glow reflected across the wet mud and illuminated the thick smoke above it. I spoke to a friend who is skipper of a local cockle boat and they were involved in a search and rescue operation for 4 missing persons.
David Knapp, Leigh-on-Sea UK

I live in the road above the Pier and although I went to bed at 1am, I heard nothing (the entrance is only 150m away from home). Yesterday I went for a walk down the Pier with family, this being the first time in at least 5 years since it last re-opened following fire. For the sake of local heritage, I think I will stay away when it re-opens again! Such a shame as it was a lovely day out, watching the Waverly steam paddle boat come into dock amongst other things. I was looking forward to walking it again more often in the future. Although under my nose, I am ashamed to say I previously paid little attention to it, possibly because it was taken for granted as I see it everyday.
Ingram, Southend

The pier may be the longest pleasure pier in the world but it must also be one of the most neglected. I haven't been up there since before it last burnt down because there was nothing of interest accept the visible damage of the last fire. Does this mean now we can have a real pleasure pier instead of a very distant run down pub.
Raymond, Southend-on-Sea

I was looking out my office window and there it was, massive flames and all of that. Scared me a lot, I hope no children got hurt. Just after they had all those safety cameras installed as well!
Lauren, Southend, UK

I saw the smoke when the pier caught fire in 1976, I remember laying in the garden wondering what the smoke was, I also saw the fire back in 1995, and remember seeing bowling balls falling into the sea in clouds of steam. I wish that whoever is doing this awful thing would stop, I am proud to come from Southend, and the pier is a major attraction which never quite seems to ever get totally renovated before being on fire again.
Karen Bateup, Southend, UK

I did not witness the fire myself, however I would just like to say that having been born and bred and continuing to choose to live in the region I certainly hope that Southend Pier can survive yet another disaster, it is a very special amenity and symbol to the local community and its is especially sad that the new and most important lifeboat station will be affected on such a busy waterway.
Paul Tracey, Hockley, Essex


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