DONATIONS worth more than £15,000 have helped a resilient community devastated by floods just weeks before Christmas.

The remote village of Port Clarence on the banks of the River Tees was hit by a freak tidal surge on December 5, forcing 147 families to evacuate their homes.

But instead of sinking in the major clean-up, the hamlet has pulled together, said Pat Chambers of the Billingham Legacy Foundation, which set up a fund specifically to help affected residents.

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“The community really came together and they are continuing to work together, there is a real sense of camaraderie,” she said.

Cash donations of £5,000 were received which will go to individuals as well as High Clarence Primary School which was used as a drop in centre and an additional £10,000 given to the needy in goods and services from local businesses.

“It’s in our interests to have a community that can look after itself and is proud of itself,” she added.

Mrs Chambers nominated lifelong Port Clarence resident, Sue Gatley, for the first Teesside Heroes award, which she won, scooping a trophy and £1,000 to give to a worthy cause of her choice by the Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.

Mrs Gatley helped organise a Christmas party for 150 local children with gifts, music, games and plenty of festive cheer.

She has been appointed chair of the reformed Clarences Residents Action Group and events planned include a summer barbeque, a day trip and another Christmas celebration.

The partner of Mrs Gatley’s son, Vikki Watson, watched in horror as tide water reached the top step of her home in Laburnum Grove on that fateful Thursday aftrnoon.

She managed to get presents safely upstairs and pile as much furniture up off the floor as she could before her family was evacuated to the Billingham Forum for several hours.

Today (SUNDAY) she said: “We managed to have a good Christmas but every time it rains I worry it’s going to happen again. The front room smelled as the water got under the floorboards and there is mould in there because of the damp but you just have to get on with it.”

“This has obviously been a difficult time for our customers and we are committed to supporting them wherever possible," said Kay Glew, Head of Housing Services for the Vela Group social housing, incorporating Tristar Homes.

"This has included establishing a fund to provide a one-off payment to our affected customers to help with any financial losses incurred, practical help in making insurance claims, and a letter drop to ensure tenants were aware of a second potential flooding risk.”

Stockton Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Environment, Councillor David Rose, added: “We are continuing to work closely with many different agencies to support Port Clarence residents as they clear up from the worst tidal surge to hit the River Tees in 170 years of harbourmaster records.

“We are working with the Environment Agency which is leading a project to improve flood defences in Port Clarence. We are also talking to our partners to identify ways in which the response could be improved, should a similar situation occur in future weeks, months or years."