Clean-up begins after sea surge
Thousands of people were returning to their homes today after the most serious tidal surge in 60 years hit the east coast of Britain.
A major clean-up operation is under way after the largest North Sea surge since the devastating floods of 1953 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 with more than 10,000 homes on the coast earmarked for evacuation yesterday.
The Environment Agency (EA), which described the tidal surge as "the most serious" for more than 60 years, said there was "a vastly improving picture" today as flood waters receded in many areas.
Twelve severe flood warnings remained in place this afternoon, down from 40 this morning, along with 62 flood warnings and 39 flood alerts .
The EA said its flood defences protected at least 800,000 homes and it had issued warnings to 120,000 properties.
About 1,400 homes were flooded, including 300 in Boston, Lincolnshire, one of the worst affected areas, the EA said.
Devastated residents in Hemsby, Norfolk, watched their cliff-top homes disappear into the sea as the tidal surge hit last night.
Five bungalows fell into the water as the high tide eroded the cliff below, while dozens of residents formed a human chain to help salvage the possessions of those affected.
In Boston, more than 250 people were taken to evacuation centres, and 200 were reported to be at a centre in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.
Many people living in the area around the town's train station had to leave their homes or take shelter on upper floors as water swept through houses last night.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said two women, two young babies in pushchairs and a dog were rescued after being hit by a large wave at Louisa Bay in Broadstairs, Kent.
The MCA said Dover Coastguard received a 999 call from a member of the public who spotted them in trouble as they walked along the promenade.
Margate Coastguard Rescue Team was sent to the scene and found the group sheltering behind a nearby container. One of the rescue officers managed to guide them to safety in between the waves crashing over.
Two people are known to have died in yesterday's storms, including lorry driver Robert Dellow, 54, from Lowestoft in Suffolk. His vehicle overturned in West Lothian, Scotland. An 83-year-old man was hit by a falling tree in Retford, Nottinghamshire.
Meanwhile, about 250 seal pups are thought to be missing from a breeding ground in Horsey, Norfolk, following a second tidal surge this afternoon.
Record-breaking sea levels have been recorded along the east coast through a combination of large waves and a tidal surge, the EA said.
Sea levels peaked at 5.8 metres in Hull, the highest seen by the East Yorkshire city since 1953, and 4.7 metres in Dover, Kent, the highest recorded there in more than 100 years.
Agencies downgraded the risk level today, 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 last night in Maldon, and the majority of people evacuated from their homes have left rest centres, police said.
The Thames Barrier, which had faced the biggest tide since it opened in 1982, was due to reopen this afternoon, the EA said.
Norfolk Police told thousands of residents there was no longer a need for them to stay away from their homes.
A spokesman said: "All partner agencies have agreed, following advice from the Environment Agency, that a phased return can begin, with mutual aid support being stood down.
"The second high tide did not lead to any major incidents so the closure of rest centres will now be staggered to ensure residents and property owners can return in a safe manner.
"There is still a potential for normal winter flooding to affect certain areas and in particular the Broads river system.
"Some flood defences are described as 'battered and bruised' with agencies assessing the need to repair any potential damage over the coming days."
Lincolnshire Police said in a statement: "Residents can return home, but they are asked to make sure they talk to a uniformed officer in their street before they enter their property. The officers will assess the risk first."
It added: "Any residents who return to properties that have flooded and have any concerns over the safety of gas and electricity supplies should not use them. Contact your providers and get expert advice."
Northumbria Police said tidal surge levels in its area were lower than yesterday.
A spokesman said: "People are reminded that there will be a second high tide this evening and, although not anticipated to cause problems, there is still the potential for flooding."