Communities and insurers are counting the cost after the most serious tidal surge in 60 years devastated large swathes of the east coast of Britain

Thousands of people who were evacuated from their homes will be assessing the damage after finally being allowed to return to their homes yesterday.

A major clean-up operation will be required. The Environment Agency (EA) said 1,400 homes were flooded, including 300 in Boston, Lincolnshire, one of the worst affected areas.

Improving weather last night saw flood waters recede in many areas, and the EA has removed more than 200 flood warnings, 106 in the Anglian area alone.

This morning there were no severe flood warnings in place and just 12 flood warnings, five in the Anglian area that remain from yesterday and Thursday.

Emergency services downgraded risk levels, and the majority of people evacuated from their homes have left rest centres

The fierce Atlantic storm caused widespread disruption and claimed two lives.

Record-breaking sea levels were recorded along the east coast through a combination of large waves and a tidal surge, the EA said.

The Thames Barrier, which had faced the biggest tide since it opened in 1982, was due to reopen yesterday afternoon, the EA said.

Improved flood defences stopped the largest North Sea surge since 1953 from causing even more chaos, protecting at least 800,000 homes.

But even with modern protection some areas suffered severe damage.

Devastated residents in Hemsby, Norfolk, watched their cliff-top homes disappear into the sea as the tidal surge hit on Thursday night.

Five bungalows fell into the water as the high tide eroded the cliff below, while dozens of residents formed a human chain to help salvage the possessions of those affected. A lifeboat station was also reportedly washed into the sea.

Meanwhile, about 250 seal pups are thought to be missing from a breeding ground in Horsey, Norfolk, following a second tidal surge yesterday afternoon.

Hundreds of people were evacuated in Boston, Lincolnshire and Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, where many people living in the area around the town's train station had to leave their homes or take shelter on upper floors as water swept through houses on Thursday.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said two women, two babies in pushchairs and a dog were rescued after being hit by a large wave at Louisa Bay in Broadstairs, Kent.

The two people who died on Thursday were lorry driver Robert Dellow, 54, from Lowestoft in Suffolk, whose vehicle overturned in West Lothian, Scotland, and an 83-year-old man who was hit by a falling tree in Retford, Nottinghamshire.

Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the EA, said last night: "We estimate that at least 800,000 homes and businesses have been protected by flood schemes in the past 24 hours.

"Flood risk management assets, including the Thames and Hull Barriers, have protected thousands of homes and businesses from sea levels higher in some places than those that occurred during the devastating floods of 1953.

"Advances in weather and flood forecasting mean that early warnings of the tidal surge were given to emergency services, homes and businesses, allowing vital time to prepare."