Reckless sightseers and parents were slammed yesterday for dicing with death in the huge waves which crashed over sea walls and piers.
These shocking pictures show children as young as three or four being drenched by waves despite a plea by the authorities to stay away from coastlines.
In one shocking sequence, a father holding his pre-school daughter in his arms is swept off his feet by a 20ft wave in Mullion Cove Harbour, Cornwall.
Onlooker Phil Rodda, 56, described how the man DROPPED his daughter as he was overcome by the torrent and his family were lucky to escape alive.
The retired civil servant said: “We went down to see how rough the sea was – but from a safe distance away.
“We could see the young family, a man and a woman with three or four kids in all. The man was lifting his little girl up against the railings so she could get a better view.
“Suddenly this huge wave came crashing over the harbour wall and knocked the dad off his feet. He fell back onto the ground, still clutching the girl – they were very close to being swept away.
“The mother then ran over and grabbed the girl before they traipsed off looking drenched and rather sheepish.
“Anyone who knows the sea around here knows what it’s capable off so I’m guessing they were from out of town.
“It was a ludicrous thing to do and incredibly dangerous.”
Shockingly, it happened in the same harbour where a couple were swept to their deaths by a wave during a seaside stroll in March 2007.
Patricia Evans, 43, and Stephen Tickell, 42, of Slough, Berks., died on the first day of their holiday as similar storms battered the area.
Many other sightseers across the south west were photographed losing their footing as they walked along promenades and sea walls.
Crowds lined Clevedon, Somerset, with others gathered at Newquay and Falmouth, in Cornwall, and Porthcawl, south Wales, to watch towering waves crash over the shore.
Around 40 people arrived in Clevedon and two lads aged no older than 10 were seen playing in the waves which smashed onto the seafront.
Police and North Somerset Council contractors closed off The Beach road to traffic in both directions as a safety precaution during the high tide.
It is estimated the tidal surge caused sea levels along the north Somerset coast to rise by massive 13.8m, causing spray to crash over the railings along the prom – soaking some spectators.
Yesterday the Environment Agency slammed those who had ignored warnings to stay away from coastal areas following two deaths in Devon and Cornwall over the festive period.
“Clearly it is dangerous to get too close to these waves,” a spokesman said.
“There is colossal power in these waves that can knock people off their feet. We would advice people to keep well away.
“There have already been two fatalities this year already and urge you not to add to those statistics.
“Keep well away and if you are going to watch the waves keep up on high ground and well clear of the actual waves breaking over the sea front and promenades or anywhere you could be knocked off your feet.”
Tamsin Thomas, for the RNLI, added: “This advice is being given out for a very good reason by the emergency services who are experts in these matters.
“We have had two tragedies already, be mindful of that, we don’t want to have to go into the waters to rescue anymore.
“If you are going down to the coast try and avoid exposed places where big waves might sweep you off your feet and avoid going near fast flowing water.
“This includes rivers which are very swollen at the moment and are moving far faster than they normally would.
“The water is very, very powerful, don’t underestimate how powerful it can be.”
High tides and strong winds brought widespread flooding to south west England as officials warned of a continuing threat across the west of the UK.
The Environment Agency has issued 16 severe flood warnings, which mean “danger to life”, affecting south-west England, Gloucestershire and Wales.
Many of the warnings relate to the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, the River Severn in Gloucestershire and south and west Wales
Widespread flooding was reported in both counties with places such as Looe, Newquay, Instow and Kingsbridge all swamped in low-lying coastal areas.
In Salcombe, Devon, the high street was completely flooded and an RNLI lifeboat volunteer was seen paddling past the shops and businesses in a boat.
The surging waves also caused damage to coastal defences, with a massive piece of sea wall estimated to weigh over 100 tonnes torn from a sea wall in Portreath, Cornwall.
Winds and and driving rains made the region’s roads treacherous and the busy A30 near Launceston, Cornwall, was closed in both directions when a car hit a tree.
A flash hail storm sparked a crash on the A38 where a driver was seriously injured.
But Tom Mansell, RNLI divisional operations manager and flood rescue team leader, said the situation so far had been “better than expected”.
“This is coastal flooding that we are expecting,” he said. “Such areas are reasonably used to this but the danger is really where people are going down to have a look.
“They don’t understand how dangerous the sea can be.”
Parts of the River Severn in Gloucestershire have also burst their banks after a combination of high tides and the Severn Bore.
The dramatic weather follows two fatalities in the seas over the festive period.
On New Year’s Eve a female holidaymaker died after getting in to difficulty while bodyboarding in Croyde, North Devon.
A reveller was swept away in the early hours of New Year’s Day when he went for paddle with friends at Porthleven in Cornwall.
Coastguards called off the search for him after a man’s body was found washed up on the beach a day later.