Sea levels could be higher than devastating 1953 floods, Environment Agency warns

Police forces are evacuating thousands of people from their homes as the most serious coast tide surge for more than 60 years begins to hit the North Sea coastline.

There are now 41 severe flood warnings in place – the highest category – with three severe flood warnings issued this afternoon for the Kent coast, from Sheerness to Deal. Significant impacts from flooding are expected, with severe flood warnings in place for areas including Queenborough, Seasalter, Gravesend and Sandwich. 

The Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent coast are at the highest risk of flooding today and tomorrow, with flooding also expected along much of the rest of the east coast of England. 

The Environment Agency has warned that some defences could be overcome by the combined effect of high tides, high winds and a large tidal surge.

Residents of Sandwich, Kent, have been told to get ready to leave their homes and Norfolk police have warned residents in 9,000 homes to prepare to leave for up to 36 hours.

Two people have died in the storms today. A lorry driver died in West Lothian when his HGV was blown onto a number of cars and a second man was killed by a falling tree in Nottinghamshire.

In some areas, sea levels could be higher than those during the devastating floods of 1953.

However, flood defences built since then – including the Thames and Hull Barriers – mean that hundreds of thousands of properties are much better protected than in 1953, the Environment Agency said.

The Thames Barrier will be closed tonight to defend London, and the Environment Agency will operate numerous other defences along the Thames Estuary.

Farmers are being urged to protect their livestock and consider moving them out of affected areas.

The Environment Agency’s head of incident management John Curtin said: “The Environment Agency continues to monitoring the situation closely, working alongside partners including the emergency services, Met Office and local authorities. Our teams have been out in force checking that flood defences and barriers are in good working order, monitoring sea levels and issuing flood warnings.

“Coastal paths and promenades will be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of people being swept out to sea.”