A VILLAGE repeatedly hit by flooding became centre of major simulated rescue operation today (Thursday, June 10).

Emergency services sprang into action, as a spotter plane circled overhead looking for a “missing” vulnerable man.

In a mock scenario, the village of Lanchester, County Durham, was cut in two by floodwaters and volunteers from the Teesdale and Weardale Mountain and Fell Rescue Team had to call in an RAF Sea King helicopter to pick them up from St Bede’s School.

They were dropped off downstream to search for the missing man, as well as for two canoeists who had “got into trouble after taking advantage of the swollen river”.

With the operation underway, the village green was packed with information tents dispensing advice to residents, to help them cope with any further flood events.

Lanchester has experienced two serious flooding incidents over the last 12 months, impacting seriously on business and residential properties.

In June 2012, the Smallhope Burn rose by a record-breaking two metres, while only three weeks ago St Bede’s School and Barclays Bank in the village centre suffered effects of flash flooding.

Today’s operation involved Durham County Council’s Civil Contingencies Unit, Durham Police, the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, the Environment Agency, the Salvation Army and British Red Cross, among other.

County council civil contingency manager Sue Jordan said, while a great deal had been done within the community over recent years including improvements to drainage and the setting up within the community of an effective Flood Action Group, the risk remained a real one.

She said: “Exercise Valencia is a demonstration of how communities can come together to reduce the risk of flooding and respond effectively and promptly drawing upon their own resources as well as the emergency services.”

Funding for the exercise was obtained through the Community Resilience charity and allowed the purchase of flooding and safety equipment for the village.

Durham Police Chief Inspector Ian Butler said: “The exercise is about building cohesion in local communities to be able to help themselves and businesses, to be in position to respond to situations that may emerge.

“It is also to show how they can be supported not just by the emergency services, but by the voluntary sector as well.”

Resident Lynne Hodgson said: “I think this is good for the village. You feel somebody is trying to do something about it and it keeps you informed.”

Ann Suddes, 80, who had to be rescued from her home last June, said: “It was a nightmare. It is good to see what is happening today. But I am still paranoid about the drains.”

County council’ senior drainage engineer Paul Armin said a flood study “hot-off-the press” identified problems with overland flows from Newbiggin Lane and the capacity of Alderdene Burn culvert - piped under the middle of Front Street.

He said: “We have put an bid into the Environment Agency and hopefully we’ll get funding to carry out remedial work. It could potentially be new drainage.”