Thousands of flood evacuations 'saved lives'
Greater loss of life and property was prevented despite "record-breaking" sea levels along the east coast of Britain because of beefed-up defences and flood warnings, the Environment Agency has claimed.
Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes after the largest North Sea surge for more than 60 years hit the north Norfolk coast early yesterday evening and headed south throughout the night.
The fierce Atlantic storm - which has claimed two lives - caused widespread disruption yesterday, but some agencies said this morning that the expected flooding overnight was less severe than expected.
Although flood waters were reported to be receding, 40 severe flood warnings, 134 flood warnings and 63 flood alerts were still in place at 8am.
Jason Wakeford, a spokesman for the Environment Agency (EA), said: "The worst effects were in darkness overnight so it is too soon to assess the overall picture but several thousand properties have been affected in the biggest coastal event of the last 60 years and the warnings we issued were in line with that risk.
"Some 800,000 properties have been protected by the defences put in place in the last six decades and we have issued 120,000 warnings to individual properties.
"It is quite clear from those numbers that events like this are hugely dangerous - the 1953 flood claimed thousands of lives so alerts and warnings are very important to prevent such a disaster happening again.
"In places across the east coast sea levels were higher than in 1953. However, this time we had much better protection in place."
Mr Wakeford said the Thames Barrier had faced the biggest tide since it opened in 1982 and would be closing again at 11.15am after being shut overnight and reopened.
Elsewhere, agencies downgraded the risk level, with Northumbria Police tweeting: "Early indications are that the tidal surges in our area this morning are less than what we saw yesterday."
Essex Police said the flood situation had been been reduced from a severe flood warning to a flood warning, and the county had escaped the worst of the weather.
Military personnel from Colchester Garrison helped emergency services during the night in Maldon, and the majority of people evacuated from their homes have left rest centres, police said.
More than 10,000 homes on the coast were earmarked for evacuation last night after officials warned that the lives of people in the regions could be at risk.
In Boston, Lincolnshire, more than 250 people were taken to evacuation centres last night, and 200 were reported to be at a centre in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.
Following a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson warned that the danger was not over.
"There will still be exceptionally high tides today and tomorrow and I would ask everybody to pay very close attention to advice from the Environment Agency and also to follow instructions from the police, local government and the emergency services," he said.