The West Country remains at risk of more flooding as rain continues to plague the south of the country and tidal surges batter the coast.
The huge waves prompted the Environment Agency to sound its flood siren in Dorset last night – warning of extreme danger to people and property.
The alarm was raised after the sea breached Chiswell Beach in Portland around 10pm and spray crashed over flood defences, the Weymouth and Portland Coastguard said.
Residents, who had been on high alert for hours, were told by Dorset Police to move to an upstairs room facing away from the sea and it is believed some homes were evacuated.
The coastguard reported “horrendous” sea conditions and road closures.
Three severe flood warnings – the highest level of warning – have been issued by the Environment Agency covering Chiswell, nearby Preston Beach and the Lower Stour in Dorset.
More than 120 flood warnings urging people to be prepared for flooding remain in place across the country, including in Dorset, Oxfordshire, south Wiltshire, Hampshire and along the river Thames, while more than 200 low-level alerts have been issued.
The Met Office said that heavy showers, some of them combined with hail and thunder, will continue to affect parts of southern and south-eastern England today and tomorrow.
The rain is falling on already saturated ground after a succession of storms putting added pressure on already swollen rivers, while coastal areas also battle high tides and strong winds.
Many areas have faced disruption from road closures and cancelled or delayed train services as people returned to work after the Christmas holidays.
Seven people have died and more than 1,700 homes and businesses have been flooded in England since the beginning of the Christmas period, with 300 properties flooded since the New Year. Some 140 properties have been flooded in Wales.
High winds over Christmas also left 250,000 homes without power, with some families waiting days for the electricity to be restored.
Some areas of the country were now focused on recovery after storms and flooding over the Christmas and New Year period, while others remained at significant risk of floods, he told the Commons.
Mr Paterson admitted that a few energy network companies could have been quicker at restoring power to thousands of homes affected by the storms and floods over Christmas.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey would be meeting the regulator Ofgem and the Distribution Network Operators to see how improvements could be made in the future, Mr Paterson said.
He also said the response from some agencies in helping people whose homes had been affected by the severe weather had been “patchy” and was “well worth investigating”, though he praised the response of most of those involved in dealing with the storms.
He told MPs: “Flood management is a real priority for this Government. It has a vital role to play in protecting people and property from the damage caused by flooding and in delivering economic growth.”
But environmentalists challenged the Government’s claim that it was spending more than ever on flood defences.
Friends of the Earth said analysis of Defra figures showed that some £2.32 billion was being spent over the current spending review period, slightly lower than the £2.36 billion spent in the period 2007-2011.
And with the cost of inflation, the figure was a drop in real terms, the environmental group claimed.
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “Worse still, the coalition’s chronic under-investment in flood defences is completely failing to keep pace with climate change, which is increasing flood risk – as the Government’s climate envoy Sir David King recently pointed out.
“Protecting British households from the destructive impacts of climate change is essential – the Prime Minister must intervene to ensure flood defence spending rises to meet the challenge.”
Mr Paterson’s statement on the floods over the holiday period came as the misery continued for some communities.
Flooding in the Somerset Levels has left villages cut off, roads and buildings have been damaged, and waves of up to 27ft have been recorded at Land’s End, the most southern tip of the UK.
In Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, seafront properties along the promenade were again evacuated to a rest centre at a local school.
Meanwhile, searches are continuing in south Devon for missing 18-year-old university student Harry Martin, who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather – with more than 100 people volunteering to look for him.
Devon and Cornwall Police said a 20-mile stretch of coastline – 10 miles either side of the 18-year-old’s home at Newton Ferrers – has been extensively searched as well as inland areas with the help of a range of groups and emergency services.
Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away as dozens put their lives at risk by going to coastal areas to watch as the storm brought waves of up to 40ft high crashing on to land.