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.
There are currently no severe flood warnings – meaning risk to life – but 148 other alerts and warnings remain.
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 east Suffolk, 1,800 residents were told to leave their homes. Meanwhile, about 140 residents in Jaywick, Mistley and West Mersea in Essex evacuated ahead of high tide at about 00:15 GMT on Saturday.
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 [floods 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.
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 Essex, police said the warnings were grounded in science and advice from the Environment Agency and the Met Office.
“We prepare for the worst case scenario and we would be happy to take the same decision again should we be faced with the same advice as we have had over the last 36 hours,” Deputy Chief Constable Matthew Horne said.
In a statement, the force added the Environment Agency had been unable to predict just how bad the situation might be as the likelihood of flooding was “so finely balanced”.
Only a few people remain at the rest centre in Jaywick this morning.
Last night 230 people bedded down – including an 18-day-old baby – but probably about 20 remain, most waiting for special transport.
There’s very much an atmosphere of relief as the centre winds down.
There are blankets to fold and hospital beds to remove, but the centre has promised to stay open as long as it’s needed.
And there’s still lots of toast and jam, and coffee on offer.
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 and 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.
The BBC Weather Centre said Friday’s winds are dying down and most places on the east coast should see some sunshine, although some sleet or snow flurries are likely in some areas.
The weather on Sunday is forecast to be similar, but more grey.
he 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.