Families start to return home after severe flood warnings for Kent and hundreds of homes evacuated amid worst tidal storm surge in decades
Families were starting to return home today following a freak tidal surge which caused widespread flooding across many parts of the county.
Flood warnings that had been expected to stay in place today have been lifted across Kent, though remain in place for much of the east coast of Britain.
Dozens of homes were flooded in Faversham and Sandwich, the latter being one of the county's worst-struck regions - with villagers evacuated to safety in advance.
Waves crash against the seafront in a dramatic high tide at Deal beach this afternoon. Picture: Claire Steer
Two women and two babies were rescued after being hit by a large wave in Broadstairs yesterday when Kent remained on the most severe flood warning.
Dover Coastguard received a 999 call from a member of the public who spotted the women - with two children aged about six months in pushchairs and a dog - in trouble as they walked along the promenade at Louisa Bay at about 12.30pm.
Their lucky escape came as Kent braced itself for more flooding in the afternoon following the worst tidal surge to hit the county in decades - with waves of up to 20ft hitting the coast at high tide.
Youngsters rallied together in Sandwich to collect sandbags
The Margate Coastguard Rescue Team found the group sheltering behind a nearby container and guided them to safety in between the crashing waves.
Tony Evans, senior watch manager at Dover Coastguard, said: "With one of the worst tidal surges we've seen in recent years, we would urge members of the public to take extra care along our coastline at this time.
"These types of conditions, with choppy seas and large waves, are likely to be with us for a few days yet, so please don't take risks.
"If you do get into difficulty, or spot someone else in trouble, call 999 straight away and ask for the Coastguard."
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High tide at Broadstairs this afternoon. Picture: Levicks Accountants
Water washing over the jetty at Broadstairs at high tide. Picture: Levicks Accountants
Beach huts have been left overturned at Broadstairs. Picture: Levicks Accountants
The dramatic rescue came after about 40 homes - in Faversham, Sandwich and Strood - were submerged when water broke through defences in the early hours of Friday, leaving hundreds of people evacuated.
Three of the most severe flood warnings - meaning a possible danger to life - remained in place ahead of a high tide Friday afternoon that was expected to spark more flooding.
These covered the Pfizer site in Sandwich, The Quay at Sandwich and the stretch between Gravesend and Greenhithe.
Earlier severe flood warnings were lifted for another area of Sandwich and the coast between Higham Marshes and Seasalter.
About 1,000 homes in Sandwich, Seasalter, Faversham and Medway were evacuated, but Kent appeared to have avoided the widespread predicted flooding chaos.
Emergency rest centres were set up across the county after people were warned to leave homes said to be at risk from the rising water.
Despite the Environment Agency forecasting the most serious tidal surge for 30 years, the east Kent coast appears to have escaped the expected carnage.
The predicted water levels had been compared to the great floods of 1953, which caused huge devastation and loss of life throughout the county.
The Environment Agency predicted a second tidal surge Friday afternoon could have caused further flooding, but it did not appear to cause any significant damage.
At 2.30pm, Dover District Council said peak tides were falling - but urged people to remain flood aware.
Several roads were badly flooded in Faversham. Picture: Michael Maloney
The flooded entrance to Willow Tap Cottage in Upper Brents, Faversham. Picture: Bess Browning
Upper Brents in Faversham is submerged in several feet of water. Picture: Bess Browning
A flooded street in Faversham near Upper Brents. Picture: Bess Browning
Harty Ferry Road in Faversham under water. Picture: Bess Browning
The Port of Dover was closed for a short time Friday because of the adverse weather and the loss of some power.
At around midnight, fire crews rescued a man from a stranded lorry after it became surrounded by around four feet of flood water. He was carried to safety in Channel View Road and unharmed.
The Environment Agency said temporary flood barriers protected 219 properties in Sandwich, but up to 40 properties were surrounded by four inches of water.
Video: Kent hit by tidal surge floods
In Faversham, where 200 people were advised to seek shelter elsewhere, there were reports of around nine homes being flooded.
Among those affected in Faversham was Alan Harding.
He said: "We moved into our house in 1976, just after the 1975 flood.
"The elderly couple that lived in there that experienced the flood no longer wanted to live there so we moved in. But this is the first major flooding we've had since then.
"It's about ankle deep inside my house. Carpets are damaged and furniture. The electricity went off briefly around 2am."
A worried householder surveys the scene on the corner of Knightrider Street in Sandwich. Picture: Tony Flashman
Flood water reached the doors of these homes in The Quay, Sandwich. Picture: Tony Flashman
Sandwich was one of the areas in east Kent worst affected by flooding. Picture: Tony Flashman
A children's play area almost completely submerged by flood water in Sandwich. Picture: Tony Flashman
Neighbour Ian Ludlow said: "All of the neighbours were up until 2am just keeping an eye on the water. It seemed to surge about an hour or two before the high tide. Although this is bad, that probably saved a few more houses.
"Then after that, about 2am, we could see that it was receding so we all went to bed.
"But in the morning we all found out that it had flooded at the back of the houses, more than it has in the front, so we're without a fridge at the moment.
"No real damage, the bins were upturned, but it's the mess it all leaves. It's just unpleasant."
Workers begin to clear flood water in Faversham. Picture: Michael Maloney
A flooded garden in Faversham. Picture: Michael Maloney
Water being sucked back into the creek at Front Brents in Faversham. Picture: Bess Browning
Five areas were put on the highest level of flood alert, indicating danger to life, after the Environment Agency added the former Pfizer site in Sandwich to the 'at risk' list.
Sandwich faced two other severe warnings, with Medway and Greenhithe also told to expect the worst from the full force of the storm surges.
The additional warnings covered Gravesend, the Discovery Park (formerly Pfizer) site in Sandwich, Denton and Greenhithe in one area and Higham Marshes to Seasalter, but not including Sheerness and Queenborough in the other.
Abandoned lorry in flood water at Dover Western Docks. Picture @StaceyyyKent
Flooded subway in Market Square in Dover towards the beach. Picture @Shaunpidds
Rough seas at Margate in the early hours. Picture: Danielle Jones
Water comes over a wall near the Turner Contemporary in Margate. Picture: Chris White
The Medway Tunnel reopened at about 4am Friday following an earlier closure at midnight due to the alerts and the flood barrier at Canal Road in Strood, has also reopened, although the wall was breached last night.
Members of the public seeking shelter at Strood Leisure Centre because of flooding were told it was safe to return home at 3am.
There were reports of isolated flooding in Pier Road, Gillingham, Canal Road, Strood and Hathaway Court, at The Esplanade, Rochester.
Over-flowing drains also caused some flooding at the Star Hill end of Corporation Street, Rochester.
Sea came over edge of quay in Whitstable Harbour
Belvedere Road was among those flooded in Faversham. Picture: Chris Davey
Water levels in the creek spilled over into Standard Quay in Faversham. Picture: Chris Davey
Police closed North Lane in Faversham due to flooding. Picture: Chris Davey
In Whitstable, people in 70 homes along Faversham Road, Seasalter, were advised to evacuate by Canterbury City Council, but only minor flooding was reported.
City council spokesman Celia Glynn-Williams said: "The water level peaked in the Seasalter area at 2am, at a level of 4.1m. The previous record was 4.14m.
"There are no reports of any houses flooded, although some gardens appear to have some flooding."
Water pouring in from Faversham Creek to Belvedere Road as the tide rises. Picture @Griseldamussett
Water reaches Harbour Street in Broadstairs. Picture: @JoMran
Flooding outside the drill hall in Sandwich. Picture: Tony Flashman
At least 1,000 homes were evacuated as thousands of families were put on the highest level of alert - severe flooding - which could lead to a loss of life.
Key flooding barriers - including the Thames Barrier and those closer to home - were closed ahead of the peak tides at just after midnight and after 1pm Friday.
The Environment Agency and Met Office are forecasting "a significant risk to people and property as spring tides combine with a coastal surge and significant waves".
Flooding in Sandwich at the height of the surge early today. Picture: Tony Flashman
Wellies were essential footwear in Sandwich early today. Picture: Tony Flashman
Residents in Sandwich gather as waters rise in the town. Picture: Tony Flashman
Kent County Council said at least 180 homes in Sandwich, 200 in Faversham and 70 in Seasalter were evacuated.
A further 300 were evacuated across Medway, where two emergency shelters were set up.
Swale Council said around 230 homes were evacuated, including part of Milton High Street in Sittingbourne.
Temporary flood defence barriers are erected in Sandwich
People rush to protect their home and businesses from the tidal surge in Sandwich
Heavy machinery is used to protect coastal areas of Kent
Towns deemed at high risk, which came under a flood alert, included Deal, Rochester, Strood, Sittingbourne and Faversham and low lying properties in Gravesend.
An Environmental Agency spokesman earlier said the peak of the tides did not necessarily pose the worst risk. But the high tides combined with gusty northwesterly winds - reaching force 4 to 7 at their peak.
Water levels were considered dangerously high just before the so-called "astronomical tidal peak". That was due to the surge raising water levels before the tide hits.
Vulnerable residents were contacted individually and arrangements made to support them, if required, a spokesman for the county council said.
Public toilets are flooded by the tidal surge in Sandwich. Picture: Tony Flashman
Rising water in Sandwich at shortly after midnight. Picture: Tony Flashman
Many homes were protected by temporary barriers and sandbags in Sandwich, including these in The Strand. Picture: Tony Flashman
Dover District Council said it launched the evacuation in Sandwich on the advice of Environment Agency modelling of the flood risk in the area around Sandwich Quay from 11pm on Thursday until 3am - as well as 1pm on Friday.
A spokesman said: "A door-to-door evacuation is taking place. If you are not informed that you need to evacuate, then there is no need to do so at this stage.
"If you are asked to evacuate, please ensure your property is secure, including switching off any gas and electricity supply. Please take any necessary items with you, including medication."
Canterbury City Council spokesman Celia Glynn-Williams said: "Because of the potential danger from flooding in the area, residents in the Faversham Road area of Seasalter are currently being strongly advised to evacuate their homes to stay with relations or friends where possible."
Homes are sandbagged in Sandwich ahead of the expected tidal surge
Residents queue for sandbags in Sandwich ahead of the tidal surge
Emergency rest centres had also been arranged by the council for all residents who have been forced to leave their homes.
The council warned people to evacuate their homes only if they have been advised to, and to take all necessary items including important medication with them.
They are also told to inform family and friend of where they are staying.
If they choose to remain at home, they are advised to move themselves, their pets, small valuables and food and drink supplies to the first floor, if possible.
The authority also closed the flood-gates in Herne Bay and put out sandbags to prepare for surges expected during the high tide in the early hours of the morning and again in the afternoon.
Parts of The Esplanade in Rochester were flooded
In Medway, the floodgates at Canal Road in Strood were closed, with drivers urged to remove their cars if possible.
Extra sandbags were bought by the council to add to its existing stock.
Robin Cooper, Medway Council's director of regeneration, community and culture, said: "We have a well-rehearsed emergency plan and we are working with all the agencies concerned and the emergency services to ensure the residents of Medway are safe.
He said any communities affected would be kept up to date with developments.
In Gravesend, floodgates have been closed but the council says if anything does happen, Royal Pier Road would most likely be affected as the area does not have a floodgate.
Gravesham council has sacks ready for those homes that could be affected and the Port of London Authority has slowed ships travelling along the Thames past the town.
Video: Reporter Kiran Kaur reports on people in parts of coastal Kent preparing for flooding
The Environment Agency is working with police, councils and the fire and rescue service to warn firms and residents of the risks.
Motorists are being advised not to attempt to drive through flooded roads and people are also advised to avoid coastal and river paths.
People are being urged to only call 999 if life is in danger, or if there is an ongoing emergency.
Andrew Pearce, the Environment Agency's area manager for Kent, said: "Those who live or work in affected areas should keep up to date on local travel advice through radio and TV.
"Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline."
People queue to collect sandbags in Sandwich town centre
Among those who moved valuables upstairs in preparation for the flooding was 57-year-old Peter Birchfield from Sandwich.
He said: "I've been moving all of my furniture upstairs, and we're going out to buy some wood in a minute and block up all our front and back doors. We've even moved our freezers upstairs!"
Heather Lemoine, 66, said she was trying to move as much as she could upstairs.
She added:"I'm trying to check out what's going on with the sandbags, and to find out how to get some more sandbags from somewhere.
"I've packed a bag ready to move up to some friends' that are on the other side of town away from the river."
Warnings for severe flooding in Sandwich
A statement on the Environment Agency's website said high tides were expected just after midnight and 1pm today.
It continued: "High spring tides, combined with a prolonged surge, mean that water levels are forecast to be very high, and are likely to overtop some flood defences in the area.
"This poses a significant risk for both high tides on Friday. This Severe Flood Warning is being issued now to allow time for necessary precautions to be taken."
There are also flood warnings and flood alerts in place for the rest of the coast.
Environment Agency chiefs are predicting some 1,300 to 1,400 homes across the coast of Kent are at risk.
Waves crash on the seafront during the recent storm St Jude. Library picture
Local British Red Cross volunteers and staff are preparing to take part in any emergency response.
Dr Paul Leinster, Environment Agency chief executive, said: "Gale force winds and large waves along the east coast of England are forecast during Thursday and Friday, coinciding with high tides and a significant coastal surge.
- Mark Durch of the Environment Agency on the flood predictions
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"Flooding of some coastal communities is expected and some defences could be overtopped by the combined effect of high tides, high winds and a tidal surge.
"Coastal paths and promenades will be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of people being swept out to sea.
"The Environment Agency is monitoring the situation closely, working alongside partners including the emergency services, Met Office and local authorities.
"Environment Agency teams are out on the ground checking that flood defences and barriers are in good working order, monitoring sea levels and issuing flood warnings.
"People should check the Environment Agency website or follow @EnvAgency and #floodaware on Twitter for the latest flood outlook, and to sign up to receive free flood warnings."
A car makes a splash getting through flooded Willesborough Road. Library picture
Meanwhile, the Port of Dover has been preparing for the worst of the expected tidal surge.
Staff have conducted a full-scale inspection of the area to assess any potential trouble spots.
A spokesman said: "The safety of customers, staff and the local community is paramount and the port will be taking the appropriate action to mitigate the effects of the weather as far as possible."
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