Towns and villages along England’s east coast have escaped significant flooding after a change in wind direction prevented a storm surge.
More than 5,000 homes were evacuated in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, amid fears of a tidal surge, but the town was unscathed.
Seventeen severe flood warnings remain – meaning there is a danger to life – for the Norfolk and Suffolk coastlines.
Residents in parts of the Suffolk coast have been told it is safe to return.
Suffolk Police said people in Lowestoft could go back to their homes.
Residents were braced as gale-force winds and higher than usual tides were expected to bring waves crashing over coastal defences along the east coast.
The Environment Agency said things were not as bad as predicted “because the combined surge and high tides aren’t happening at the same time as a result of wind”.
Barry Russell said: “It means the actual surge has come before the high tide and therefore the levels are less than they were being forecast at.”
In Essex, about 140 residents in Jaywick, Mistley and West Mersea left their homes ahead of high tide at about 00:15 GMT on Saturday, while 1,800 residents in properties in east Suffolk were told to leave their homes.
More than 200 people took shelter at a rest centre in Jaywick.
Further along the Norfolk coast, 80 homes were evacuated in Walcott, south of Cromer.
Residents in Great Yarmouth – where some refused to leave their homes – have expressed relief as the town escaped a battering.
Charles Osborne, 52, said: “The river did get pretty high but I didn’t think it would ever go over the walls. I guess it was a lot of panicking but you can’t be too careful.”
Jess Hudson, 19, from Gorleston-on-Sea, Norfolk, said: “I didn’t think it would be as bad as before (when floods hit in 2013) but people were worried and they’ll be relieved the worst seems to have passed.”
Great Yarmouth Council defended its evacuation plan and said it was not an overreaction to the flood risk.
Council leader Graham Plant said: “We’re very grateful to all the people from all over the country who came here to help us.
“I don’t believe we overreacted… If [the water] had breached, the residents would have been so grateful to have those people there to help them.”
Norfolk Police thanked residents and volunteers for their support “in ensuring that the flood risks were minimised”.
In a statement, the force said the Environment Agency had been unable to predict just how bad the situation might be as the likelihood of flooding was “so finely balanced”.
About 200 army troops from the Wiltshire-based King’s Royal Hussars and gunners from RAF Honington in Suffolk were drafted in to help evacuate homes in Great Yarmouth.
Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service said it attended a few incidents to “assist with flooding”, including rescuing people stuck in flood water and assisting “with emergency lighting at an evacuation centre” in Walcott.
What causes a storm surge?
The principal cause of a storm surge is high winds pushing the seawater towards the coast.
There is also a smaller contribution from the low pressure at the centre of the storm “pulling” the water level up – a similar effect to what happens when you drink through a straw.
The strong winds can generate large waves on top of the surge which can then damage sea defences or cause water to spill over the top of defences, which increases the flood risk to coastal communities.
Source: The Met Office