Flooding chaos as storms hit region

The Northern Echo: STORMY WEATHER: Workmen carry pupils from Cockerton CE Primary School, in Darlington, to safety after flash flooding hit the town yesterday Buy this photo STORMY WEATHER: Workmen carry pupils from Cockerton CE Primary School, in Darlington, to safety after flash flooding hit the town yesterday

WEATHER forecasters issued a three-day storm alert last night after freak weather brought flash floods to some parts of the North-East yesterday, while other areas remained sunny and dry.

The floods caused schools to be evacuated, roads to close, and power cuts across the region.

Fire crews had to pump out Durham Tees Valley Airport after its restaurant flooded, and lightning caused The Great North Air Ambulance's communication system to fail.

But while Darlington, Tees-side, and North Yorkshire fought the floods, nearby Bishop Auckland and Durham stayed sunny.

The Met Office issued severe weather warnings for the region last night. Forecasters said the region was at risk of further torrential rain all weekend and the storm threat would not abate until Monday.

The trouble in Darlington began at about noon, when lightning and heavy rain sent shoppers running for cover. The rain continued for more than two hours.

Two secondary schools, Eastbourne and Branksome, had to close early, as did Cockerton CE Primary, where pupils were carried to safety by workers building the school's new premises.

Headteacher Chris Metcalfe said: "Without the workers we would have been really struggling. The children were terrified of the thunder and lightning, but once it passed, they were quite excited about it all."

The Oak Tree pub, in Middleton St George, had to call the fire brigade after its cellar flooded.

"One minute there was two inches, then there was five, and before we knew it, it was over our knees," said landlady Gail Taylor.

Aunty Richards cafe, in Darlington's Northgate, was also flooded.

"You could surf on the waves," said owner Lesley Munshi.

More than 20 members of staff at Darlington Community Safety Partnership were evacuated from their Gladstone Street headquarters after rain caused part of an office ceiling to collapse.

The lightning knocked out a conductor, causing blackouts in 202 homes and businesses across the region, according to a spokesman for Northern Electric Distribution. Most customers were reconnected by 2.30pm.

The Great North Air Ambulance hangar at Durham Tees Valley Airport was struck four times by lightning.

Sarah Booth, from the charity, said: "The noise was unbelievable. We were terrified."

Although the office stayed dry, the air ambulance's communications system went down. Emergency services were given air ambulance paramedics' mobile phone numbers in case of emergency.

The airport had to evacuate its restaurant and call the fire brigade after the terminal became flooded.

A spokeswoman said: "Luckily, the 30 minutes of the storm that was really bad coincided with us having no incoming or outgoing flights."

The airport also suffered a power cut, but had a back-up generator.

A second storm broke over Northallerton, North Yorkshire, in the late afternoon.

A spokesman for the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service, based in the town, said: "There is a severe weather warning out and we have been told the North-East of England could get anything from 25mm to 80mm of rain over the next three days.

"With the ground so sodden, there will be nowhere for it to go."

Northumbrian Water said it had received more than 30 calls from residents and businesses whose property had flooded.

Calls came from Darlington, Middleton St George, Yarm, Ingleby Barwick, Eaglescliffe, all near Stockton, Middlesbrough, and Peterlee.

Jeremy Plester, a spokesman for weather forecasting company MeteoGroup UK, said: "The storms seemed to head east to west, and then headed for the Pennines.

"They lingered for a couple of hours and could easily have caused an inch of rain.

"The low pressure will linger for some time, so it will be cool and showery next week, too."

Mr Plester said the region may not experience warm, sunny weather for another two weeks.

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