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Last Updated: Friday, 9 November 2007, 16:50 GMT
Thousands go home after tide fear
Waves battered beach huts at Southwold (Pic: Rachel Temple)

Thousands of people who left their homes amid fears of flooding are returning after the biggest tidal surge for half a century.

Fears of widespread flooding in eastern England have diminished as tides peaked without major breaches of sea defences.

The waters were nearly 8in (20cm) lower than originally feared and passed without causing major damage.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said it had been a "close run thing" but that the worst was now over.

The North Sea surge had been moving south during Friday, combining with high tides and strong winds to create flooding risks along the coast.

Residents on the Kent coast had been told to remain vigilant due to high tides on Friday afternoon, but no major flooding was reported.

Map of flood-affected areas

Earlier, Floods Recovery Minister John Healey and East of England Minister Barbara Follett visited Great Yarmouth to meet local people evacuated from their homes as a precaution.

The Environment Agency (EA) said the surge had "lost its power" by Friday lunchtime and no problems had been reported in the county as the high waters continued their way south.

The risks in the worst-hit areas in East Anglia, Great Yarmouth, Felixstowe and Lowestoft had passed, an EA spokesman added.

Areas on the Lincolnshire coast, around the Humber and in the North East of England have been given the all-clear.

Felixstowe docks were closed, and rail company One suspended services between Lowestoft and Norwich due to flooding on the line.

Norfolk police said water had breached flood defences in the centre of Great Yarmouth but there was "no risk to persons or property".

The EA said there was a risk of flooding later from a "tidal block" on the Norfolk rivers Bure, Yare and Waverey, which is caused by river water moving back out to sea, while high tides push sea water back into the rivers.

Flood threat
Water breached sea defences in Great Yarmouth

Meanwhile, in London the Thames barrier was put back up as a precaution against the high tide, but the water is not expected to breach its defences.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown chaired an emergency Cobra committee meeting at on Friday morning. Another Cobra meeting, chaired by Mr Benn, was held later.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One that the floods could have been much more damaging.

"As far as East Anglia is concerned - Norfolk and Suffolk - it looks now as if the worst is over."

He added: "It looks at the moment as if it's been a pretty close run thing - at Great Yarmouth, the Environment Agency say this has been the most significant event since the great storm of 1953."

FLOOD ALERTS EXPLAINED
Severe Flood Warning - Severe flooding is expected. There is extreme danger to life and property. Act now!
Flood Warning - Flooding of homes and businesses is expected. Act now!
Flood Watch - Flooding of low lying land and roads is expected. Be aware, be prepared, watch out!
Source: Environment Agency

Large parts of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent were left under water in 1953, and 307 people died, when high tides and a storm saw a tidal surge of 3.2m (10ft 6in).

Phil Rothwell, head of flood policy at the EA, said the surge was about the same level as the devastating 1953 flood but that technology and sea defences had improved since then.

The EA has no severe flood warnings, although three standard flood warnings and 10 flood watches remain in place, mainly in East Anglia and the north east of England.

The flood alerts are a response to weather and tide patterns being tracked this week by the EA and the Met Office.

Oil platforms have been closed off Norway, gales are expected in Germany and Denmark and flood defences have been put on alert along the entire coast of the Netherlands, where a giant surge barrier at Rotterdam has been closed for the first time since its construction in the 1990s.

For more information on flood risks call the Environment Agency's Floodline on 08459 881188.




SEE ALSO
Surge floods hit wildlife havens
09 Nov 07 |  England
Tidal surge 'poses grave danger'
09 Nov 07 |  England
Minister urges calm over surge
08 Nov 07 |  UK Politics

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