The nightmare returned to Lewes yesterday as the town came within inches of a repeat flooding disaster.

Heavy rain, combined with one of the highest tides of the month, brought the River Ouse to within a whisker of bursting its banks for the second time in two months.

The panic button was hit at 11.30am when the Environment Agency issued its first severe flood warning for Lewes since the October floods.

Lewes District Council printed 800 warning leaflets, which were being handed out within an hour in all the areas previously hit by the floods.

Cliffe High Street and the surrounding area were sealed off, rest centres were set-up at the town hall and Malling Community Centre, an emergency room was set-up at Lewes House.

As the high tide arrived at 1.13pm, low lying central Lewes was almost deserted and shops in Cliffe High Street had been sandbagged.

Watching from Lewes Bridge was Barbara Young, four days into her new job as Environment Agency chief executive.

She was visiting to see damage caused by the October floods, just in time to see the town as it prepared to face another disaster.

She said: "I don't know whether the warnings have been more effective today or not. We have got to get more people onto the warning system.

"I hope people recognise that in the last few months, our staff, together with the emergency services and local authorities, have done, while it has not been perfect, a pretty good job in getting their warnings out."

With the warnings issued, all people could do in the council's emergency room was wait.

At 12.15pm, the river level was 4.1 metres high and at 12.45pm it stood at 4.2 metres. There was a sigh of relief at 1.30pm when the Environment Agency phoned to say it had dropped back to 4.1 metres.

"We've probably got away with it this time round," was the first comment from the council's emergency planner, Lindsay Frost.

Council leader Ann de Vecchi said: "People have taken more notice of the warnings this time because before they were a little bit sceptical."

By 2.30pm, the cordons were down at either end of Cliffe High Street.

At Harveys Brewery, badly hit in October, staff watched as water lapped against the walls. Everything that could be moved had been lifted above floor level as the high tide approached.

Further down Cliffe High Street, Andrew Clarke sat in his china shop, Louis Potts and Co.

He had reopened on Thursday, eight weeks after being hit by the October floods.

He said: "We spent yesterday filling our storeroom with stock and this morning bringing it all back up again.

"I think I am going to leave it upstairs now and find somewhere to put it."

Some limited flooding did occur in properties next to the River Ouse.

*The Environment Agency has now removed the severe flood warning for the river.