LONDON, Nov 9 (Reuters) Britain's east coast was spared massive flooding today as tides receded after peaking about 20 cm (8 inches) below levels that had been feared.
''You can say that you're through the worst of it, but vigilance is the word. It is still wild and windy out there,'' a spokesman for the Environment Agency said.
''There's still a lot of water around. But the actual tides themselves peaked at between 0700 and 0800 (local time) this morning,'' he said.
The agency had predicted tides could peak up to three metres above normal, he said. ''It came in at 2.75 metres. So it came in about 20 cm below what we were predicting.'' A small number of surfers in wet suits were out trying to catch a wave as sun rose above the beach at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.
Police said flood defences had been breached in the town, but there was no danger to homes.
Further surges were expected south along the coast towards Kent and London, but they would not coincide with high tide.
''Our first priority is to ensure people are safe, and that's why, over the course of yesterday evening and right through the night, we've been bringing in the helicopters and sandbags and the preparations that are absolutely necessary so that people are safe,'' Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a television interview.
Earlier he chaired a meeting of the government's COBRA emergency committee.
Police had gone door to door to urge residents of 7,500 homes in Norfolk to leave, or, if they had nowhere to go, to move onto upper floors and lock their doors.
Hundreds of families moved into school buildings where local authorities said they had room for 3,500 people, while road and rail routes to Great Yarmouth were closed. More than 200 elderly residents were evacuated from care homes.
Weather experts had invoked images of the deadly floods of 1953 that hit eastern England and the Netherlands.
The environment agency spokesman said the 1953 floods were caused by a surge of 3.28 metres (11 ft).
''Of course the difference between now and 1958 is we've got far improved flood defence systems and warning suystems in place,'' he said.
REUTERS RKM RAI1554