The UK is "better prepared than ever before" to respond to major flooding, the Environment Minister said today as survivors paused to remember one of the country's worst peacetime disasters, affecting the East of England.
The Great Flood battered the east coast of England 60 years ago as high spring tides, deep atmospheric low pressure and exceptionally strong northerly gales led to sea water surging over coastal defences and sweeping two miles inland.
By the morning of February 1, the death toll on land was estimated at 307 in English coastal towns and villages. Many more died on the Continent and at sea.
Today, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "The floods of 1953 saw the terrible loss of over 300 lives and devastating damage to thousands of homes.
"The tragedy was made all the worse by the fact that no flood warning system was in place.
"Today, people have a much better chance to protect their lives, loved ones and possessions and stay safe by signing up for the Environment Agency flood warnings.
"While the risk of extreme weather has never gone away, the country is better prepared than ever before to respond to major flooding and I thank the emergency services and Environment Agency for their hard work during the recent floods.
"We are doing all we can to protect homes and businesses from flooding, and expect to exceed our target to protect a further 145,000 properties in the four years to 2015."
The Environment Agency said that, despite major improvements to sea defences and warning systems, 1.3 million people or one in 25 homes in England and Wales remain at risk of coastal flooding.
The situation is likely to be exacerbated in coming years as a result of climate change, the agency added.
The Princess Royal will attend a special service at Chelmsford Cathedral to mark the Great Flood anniversary.
The event will bring together survivors from Essex and further afield, including representatives from the Netherlands, where 1,800 people were killed.
Smaller acts of remembrance will take place across the areas which were hit along 1,000 miles of British coast.
About 24,000 homes were damaged and more than 30,000 people moved to safety.
More than 177 were lost at sea in fishing boats and more than 130 on the ferry Princess Victoria, which was sailing between Scotland and Ireland when she sank.
In Holland and Belgium the destruction was even worse, with more than 3,000 people killed.