THE US military landed in force in Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency this week in preparation for George Bush's visit.

The US president is due to arrive in the county tomorrow surrounded by an unprecedented security operation. He is expected to visit Myrobella, the Prime Minister's constituency home at Trimdon Colliery - although details of his itinerary have been kept under wraps.

Earlier this week, an advance party of US navy helicopters descended on the village for an apparent dry run of the president's visit.

Two Sikorsky aircraft from the US navy's elite Black Stallion combat support squadron landed on a field close to Mr Blair's house. They were followed by two further helicopters bearing US Government livery as part of a dummy run.

Ben Fletcher, 67, from Trimdon Colliery, said: "It was an amazing sight. The street where I live was filled with people staring into the sky.

"We have had a lot of presidential visits since Tony Blair came to power and we are used to officials driving up and down the roads, but this was in a different league."

Another householder said: "There was this tremendous commotion outside and when I looked it was like something from a Hollywood blockbuster. We're not used to all this in Trimdon, it is quite unsettling.

"The sooner the President comes and leaves again the better, this fuss is causing disruption in our lives."

Police checked drains before sealing them shut, fitted anti-tamper devices to external gas meters and patrolled the grounds of Mr Blair's home with sub-machine guns. Police have revealed that the security operation to keep Mr Bush safe will cost the region more than £1m.

The Durham force, which has control of the North-East leg of the visit, is talking to the Home Office to recoup the cost after it was feared council tax payers would foot the bill.

Durham police have cancelled all leave as the finishing touches are put to the operation, which will involve 1,300 officers - some drafted in from neighbouring forces.

Hundreds of people are expected to stage a demonstration. Durham Assistant Chief Constable Gary Barnett said while there was no specific threat in relation to the visit, there would be a heavy police presence on all proposed routes and around the sites to be visited.

"We have no indication at this stage of the size and scale of any marches or protests that might be planned in County Durham," he said. "While our operation will cover a wide range of contingencies, we are looking to balance the needs of security against people's right to demonstrate peacefully."

Sedgefield Borough Council said it had no knowledge of the details of Mr Bush's visit.

John Turnbull, the council's head of democratic services, said: "No local dignitaries had been invited to meet him. We have been told nothing by the Government or Blair's office. We have got no involvement."

While Trimdon Colliery residents went about their daily routines, bit-by-bit the village was sealed off.

One villager said: "We don't really want our lives disrupted. We have seen groups of Americans patrolling round and taking notes."

Paul Smith, 34, of Fishburn, said: "It seems pointless bringing George Bush here. He can talk to the Prime Minister in London, can't he?"

The President's visit has forced Trimdon RC Primary School to cancel its Christmas fair, which was due to be held tomorrow. The fair will now be on Sunday from 2pm. The change follows talks with police.