HOMES and businesses were evacuated, schools closed, trains and ferries cancelled and major roads disrupted as winter storms brought chaos and flooding to the region yesterday.

The Environment Agency issued 36 flood warnings in North East and North Yorkshire last night, urging residents to take immediate action, following a day which had seen gusts of up to 113mph damaging hundreds of properties and causing widespread disruption.

Coastal areas stretching from Scarborough to Tyneside were cordoned off as several councils issued warnings for people to avoid promenades ahead of what was believed could be the biggest tidal surge for 60 years.

In Newcastle, the Tyne burst its banks, flooding businesses on the riverside and causing chaos.

In Port Clarence, near Stockton, the residents of 300 homes were evacuated and taken to a rest centre as the River Tees burst its banks at nearby Portrack.

The Northern Echo:

The scene in Port Clarence this morning

Sandra Warburton was bussed to the centre with daughter, Natasha Warburton, and one-year-old granddaughter, Rubie Lillie Lamberton, ready for bed in pyjamas and a dressing gown.

She said: "Water was coming through the air vents so we were lifted out by police. Because of where we live it's very difficult to get insurance for flooding.

"There's no point worrying because there's nothing we can do about it."

Police told residents they could return to their homes at 9pm but were warned of the possibility of a further surge at 5am today.

The North Yorkshire seaside resorts of Whitby and Scarborough were also hit. In Scarborough, waves crashed into sandbags protecting seafront arcades as floodwaters deluged West Pier car park and the RNLI station, while pedestrian areas beside Tyne and Millennium bridges and the crown court in Newcastle were engulfed.

Copley weather station saw wind speeds of 113mph on the Teesdale fells, where sustained hurricane force winds were recorded.

The Met Office said wind speeds peaked at many places in the region at 10am, reaching 72mph in Loftus, east Cleveland and 69mph at Fylingdales on the North York Moors.

More than 1,000 students were sent home from High Tunstall College of Science, in Hartlepool, following roof damage and Middlesbrough College closed at Middlehaven as the Tees rose.

Power cuts forced several schools, including St Bedes RC School, in Lanchester, to close and left areas of Cleveland, villages west of Durham City, and parts of Wearside without electricity.

Train passengers faced lengthy delays as operators, including East Coast, launched revised timetables. At Newcastle airport, a plane was struck by lightning as it came in to land and a ferry had to wait for two hours at the mouth of the Tyne because it was unsafe to dock.

Lengthy queues developed on the regions busiest roads as several lorries overturned. Two lanes of the A1(M) between junctions 34 and 35 of the northbound carriageway were closed following a lorry overturning and damaging the central reservation.

There were also incidents along the northbound A1 and A1(M) between junctions 39 and 40, 44 and 45 and 49 and 50.

The A19 was closed between Northallerton and Thirsk, in North Yorkshire, and in Peterlee, after lorries overturned, the A66 between Bowes and Brough was closed to high-sided vehicles until 2.30pm, and fallen trees led to disruption elsewhere on the roads.

Bus services by Go North East and Arriva suffered delays and some services had to be diverted because of blocked roads.

Numerous events, including the switch-on of the Shiney Row Christmas lights, were cancelled.

Fire and rescue services said they had been inundated with reports of fallen trees and debris blown from roofs.

A spokesman for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service said: "We have been very busy dealing with several incidents across the county involving tiles falling from a roof, electric cables coming loose and various fire alarms activating."

Part of Darlington town centre was sealed off after roof tiles were torn from the towns Cornmill shopping centre, while in Guisborough a chimney pot collapsed and crashed into the road, narrowly missing pedestrians and damaging a parked car.