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UK flood threat: 'Worst is over'

  • Story Highlights
  • UK's Environment Agency reduces number of flood warnings for east England
  • Severe flood warnings remained in effect for only three areas
  • Thames Barrier in London was closed in anticipation of storm surge
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain's Environment Agency reduced the number of flood warnings for eastern England Friday morning and declared the worst was over after a storm surge, which had been forecast to cause heavy flooding, peaked at lower-than-expected levels.

Severe flood warnings remain in effect for only three areas.

Surge levels reached a peak of 2.75 meters (9 feet) around 8 a.m. (3 a.m. ET) Friday. That was 20-30 cm (7 to 11 inches) lower than forecasters predicted the night before as high winds and high tides pushed water toward England's North Sea coast, leading the agency to issue severe flood warnings for eight coastal areas.

By Friday afternoon, severe flood warnings remained in effect for only three areas and high tides were receding.

"The worst is over," said Environment Agency spokesman Adrian Westwood.

The agency reported no properties flooded by the high water, but it still warned people to stay away from the coast as a precaution. Westwood said there would be continued high tides over the weekend with a forecast of light rain.

The Environment Agency raised the Thames Barrier, the flood defense for the city of London, Friday morning as a precaution and planned to lower it again in the afternoon.

"We're not expecting to use it again for this storm surge," he said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown chaired an emergency meeting with government ministers early Friday to assess the impact of the surge. He told journalists that helicopters, sandbags, and pumps were being put in place to keep the floodwaters out.

Severe flood warnings remained in effect for three areas along England's eastern coast. They covered the city of Lowestoft (LOW-uh-stoft), England's easternmost point, as well as low-lying areas along the Rivers Yare and Waveny, which stretch inland from Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Norfolk police were operating five shelters at schools around Great Yarmouth, where residents spent the night after police knocked on their doors to tell them to evacuate.

"They did say to us, get out as soon as possible before the roads start to get too busy, which panicked us a bit," said Anita Markew, whose birthday was Friday. "We just sort of got our coats and did what we could, and just came straight out more or less."

Markew said the family moved "as much stuff as we could" to the upstairs of their home before evacuating.

Police Supt. Glyn Evans was at the shelter at Caister High School, where he had been since 3 a.m. Friday, and said about 500 people stayed there in sleeping bags.

"I wouldn't say they slept, necessarily," he said.

Evans said evacuees were patient and cooperative and he was pleased the community pulled together for the emergency.

"Even the children without any sleep all night -- they've been good as gold," he said.

The shelter would remain open Friday night if needed, Evans said, until police were sure the flood risk had passed.

The surge was the result of a combination of weather factors including northwesterly winds stronger than 50 mph, low pressure, and high tides. Together, it led forecasters to predict a surge that hadn't been seen in 20 years.

In 1953, a similar surge caused wide flooding and killed some 300 people. But Environment Agency spokesman Stuart Brennan said the level was much higher then -- 3.28 meters -- and flood defenses are much better today. E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jonathan Wald contributed to this report.

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