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Storm surge threatens North-East towns and cities
THE region's towns and cities - already battered by 70 mph winds - are on imminent flood alert tonight as an storm surge gathers strength in the north sea.
Government officials say the worst coastal surge in more than 30 years could lead to ‘‘significant’’ flooding of coastal areas.
Almost the entire east coast is at risk.
And weathermen warned this evening that freezing temperatures and snow would follow in the wake of the storm.
Winds speeds of more than 70 mph were recorded during the day as gales damaged buildings, brought down cables and caused widespread disruption.
Some 300 homes have been evacuated in Port Clarence, Middlesbrough, and the river Tyne has burst its banks causing flooding in Newcastle.
Police have also cordoned off part of Saltburn, in Cleveland, as flood waters start to rise.
Police cordon off parts of Saltburn seafront
In Newcastle, the extreme weather caused the Tyne to swell and flood into bars and businesses along the riverside.
Simon Parrock, spokesperson for the Environments Agency said: "We've had river flooding but this is the biggest tidal surge in 30 years for the entire east coast.
"We've got high tide and the river can't go anywhere so it backs up.
"It peaked at South Shields at about quarter to five so the river levels should start dropping down slowly but won't get any worse."
High waters have seeped into the Wetherspoons on the Quayside, causing the usually busy bar to close six hours early.
A member of staff in the bar, who didn't want to be named, said: "We've been flooded and we're closing now (5pm) instead of 11pm.
"They've closed all of the roads on the quayside so there'd be no one in here anyway."
Three-inch deep water flooded over footpaths and roads for 400 metres between the Tyne Bridge and the Millennium Bridge, causing roads to be closed and traffic to come to a standstill.
Seaside resorts in North Yorkshire have also been hit. A tidal surge caused floods in Whitby and Scarborough's famous South Bay was underwater this evening.
Fishing crews leapt aboard their vessels to stop them being wrecked as pounding waves breached Scarborough's harbour wall.
Arcades and cafes were flooded along the entire South Bay. Deck chair stacks were lifted off the beach onto the prom.
Showers of sparks were seen as the waves shorted out electric mains. The lifeboat station was abandoned as a deluge of water poured through the doors.
Piles of fish boxes were swept away and split open, filling the air with the stench of the morning's catch.
The harbour wall disappeared under the rising tide. Shopkeepers were trapped in their premises.
The main life boat was parked outside the lifeboat house. One rescue worker said: "Waves are just coming through the lifeboat house so we are just going to leave it there.
"There is no harbour. It is all under water."
A 999 worker on a quad bike towed the smaller nshore lifeboat away from the seafront.
It was estimated the tide was 6.1m above normal when it finally peaked around 5.20pm.
But the flood waters failed to recede. Drain covers were blown off and all roads leading down to the seafront remained closed.
Miles Jackson tried desperately to sandbag his shop his family have owned for years.
"There was plenty of warning. We tried to get more sandbags down. But it was too much.
"All I can say is we all got out the shop and are safe. Everything else can be replaced."
Surveying the damage, former mayor Janet Jefferson said: "This is a disaster for the seafront properties which have been hit.
"I have lived here 30 years and never seen anything like it.
"No amount of insurance money can cover things like this.
"It was forecast it was going to happen and now it has and it is going to have a big impact on some of these businesses."
Mother Gill Smith, fleeing the seafront with her daughter, said: "We came down to see the sea and got a scene from Titanic."
Police said they were disappointed at having to rescue people who had ignored warnings to take pictures.
Debries, branches, and fish boxes were washed onto the prom despite 2ft walls made up of hundreds of sandbags.
The deluge which swept along the seafront was more than 4ft high and easily overwhelmed the defences.
At least one electrical fire was put out in a property as electrical systems were overwhelmed.
Eyewitness and former arcade worker John Ford said: "You could see the showers of sparks.
"All the arcades have water in them.
"The owner of one cafe came past me and she was crying.
"All people could do was stand and watch.
"It is bizarre watching boats sailing past on the sea which is higher than you are."
Shell fish merchant David Jenkinson arrived on Sandside to find his lobster business marooned and cut off.
He said: "The harbour wall has vanished.
"Fish boxes are floating around. Debries are everywhere.
"All the properties on the seafront are under water.
"We are ringing the insurance companies already.
"The people down South are really going to suffer if we have got it this bad here."
Regionally, Northern Powergrid, the company responsible for the electricity infrastructure, said it had received ten times the usual number of calls for help.
Elsewhere, part of Darlington town centre was sealed off after roof tiles were torn from the town's Cornmill shopping centre.
In Guisborough a chimney pot collapsed and crashed into the road, narrowly missing pedestrians and damaging a parked car.
The Highways Agency reported incidents throughout the region.Two lanes of the northbound A1(M) between junctions 34 and 35 had to be closed following a lorry overturning and damaging the central reservation barrier. There were also incidents along the northbound A1 and A1(M) between junctions 39 and 40, 44 and 45 and 49 and 50.
The southbound A19 in North Yorkshire was closed between its junctions with the A684 and A61. One lane closed for recovery of an overturned vehicle. The road re-opened at lunchtime.
Nationally, The Environment Agency (EA) has issued 41 severe flood warnings - the highest possible warning, meaning floods could endanger people’s lives.
The warnings are only issued when flooding poses a ‘‘significant’’ threat to life.
People in affected areas are urged to stay in a safe place with a means of escape and be prepared should they need to evacuate their homes.
In Scotland, a lorry driver has been killed as gale force winds caused major travel disruption.
The man died and four other people were injured when his HGV was blown on to cars near Bathgate in West Lothian.
The accident happened on the A801 one mile north of Boghead roundabout at around 8.10am.
Scotland’s entire rail network was closed this morning because of safety fears. Several routes have now resumed, including the main Edinburgh to Glasgow line which was blocked by a 20ft tree at Lenzie.
At the height of the storm, around 130,000 homes were left without power, the majority of which are in the Highlands.
Wind speeds of more than 140mph were recorded overnight at Aonach Mor near Fort William, the Met Office said.
Temperatures are expected to plummet overnight - leading to widespread freezing and a major risk from icy roads tomorrow.
The cold snap will continue on Friday with snow forecast even at low levels in County Durha, North Yorkshire and Northumberland.
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