FEARS of widespread flooding in eastern England diminished as surging tides peaked without major breaches of defences.

Evacuated residents were allowed back to their homes in Norfolk as water levels stopped short of historic levels predicted from a combination of gale-force winds and a high tide.

While flood warnings remained in place, the Environment Agency (EA) said the main tidal peak in East Anglia, the area most at risk, has now occurred.

There were reports of localised flooding, and inland areas affected by different tidal patterns remained at risk.

A spokesman said: "The main tidal peak in the area that was most at risk in the Anglian region has occurred.

"The risk of flooding has diminished and the outlook is for tide levels to fall.

"No further flooding is expected after this morning's high tide."

There had been fears that waters would rise by 9ft (2.75m), making it the highest tidal surge since the devastating floods of 1953 in which more than 300 people in English coastal towns were killed.

In the event, water levels peaked around 8in (20cm) below that figure, ranking today's surge behind the 8.7ft (2.65m) tides seen in 1993.

Environment Agency chief executive Barbara Young said East Anglia had come within a "whisker" of widespread flooding and urged caution from those in areas which may yet be affected.

The agency warned that residents of tide-trapped areas such as the Norfolk Broads remained at risk.

"As the main time for concern has now passed in Great Yarmouth it's easy for people to think that the risk of flooding has passed for everyone," she said.

"In some areas it has but this tidal surge is affecting a large part of our coast and it affects parts of the country differently.

"That is why we are urging people to check their local flood situation.

"Our officers are out on the ground checking our flood defences and continuing to monitor the situation very closely.

"The flooding event in East Anglia came within a whisker of widespread flooding, with tides in Great Yarmouth the highest they have been since the major flood in 1953.

"This is a good example of how well the Environment Agency, the Met Office and emergency services worked together to warn and evacuate people in good time.

"We are also very encouraged by the way the community worked with us and the authorities and thank the public for their cooperation."