CITY streets were turned into rivers as torrential rain fell on the North-East this afternoon.

Parts of Newcastle were flooded by water feet deep at rush hour following thunderstorms - it cascaded down Dean Street and Castle Stairs towards the Tyne after a drain cover was forced off.

The region’s biggest shopping centre, the MetroCentre in Gateshead, was forced to evacuate and Eldon Square in Newcastle closed as was the Hoppings Fair. The nearby A1 Western Bypass was closed for a time.

In County Durham, the A691 was badly flooded in several places between Langley Park and Lanchester, particularly outside St Bede's RC Comprehensive School.

The A1(M) northwards from the from Carrville interchange, Durham City, came to a standstill with traffic nose to tail.

In North Durham the A693 was closed at Annfield Plain, near Stanley, and the A692 was closed between Rowley Bank and Leadgate Road, near Consett.

Durham Police said that the river at Lanchester close to Church View Villas had burst its banks and householders were being evacuated.

A spokeswoman said that the force had been inundated with calls from flood-related incidents and appealed to the public to only travel on the roads if absolutely necessary.

She also urged people to check on elderly or vulnerable neighbours and ensure they are fit and well.

The Environment Agency last night issued flood warnings for: the River Derwent at Blaydon, Rowlands Gill, Lintzford and Shotley Bridge; Smallhope Burn, Lanchester; Ouse Burn at Woolsington and Cockshaw Burn, Hexham.

Flood Alerts were also issued for River South Tyne; coastal rivers in North Northumberland; River Rede; Rivers Derwent, Team, Don and south Tyne tributaries: Tyne and Wear coastal rivers; coastal rivers in South Northumberland; River Ouse Burn, River Wansbeck; Rivers Pont and Blyth; Upper River Coquet; Lower River Wear - from Escomb to Chester-le-Street, including the Rivers Browney, Cong Burn and Lumley Park Burn; River Tyne; River Doe Lea catchment, from Hardwick Hall to Staveley; Blackburn Brook catchment; Earby Beck and Glusburn Beck catchments; River Sheaf and Porter Brook; River Aire upper and lower catchment; River Calder upper and lower catchment and River Foulness and Market Weighton catchment.

Meanwhile, southbound trains on the East Coast Main Line from Edinburgh are terminating at Berwick.

Passengers are having to wait for buses to take them further south.

Trains travelling from Birtley and Low Fell are travelling at 5mph with severe delays.

All Metros are at a standstill due to flooding and the system has been suspended. Most trains are stopped at stations.

The advice is passengers use normal bus services. All local bus firms are accepting Metro tickets.

The Tyne Tunnel was closed in both directions but has now reopened.

There are slight improvement to roads. The A1 Acklington to Felton has one lane open and the Newcastle Central Motorway East is now running - roads are passable with care.

Marks & Spencer at Teesside Park was also closed along with several other stores due to reported flooding.

Members of the public are advised to check for updates for Metro services this evening and tomorrow.

The last race on the first day of the Northumberland Plate Festival at Newcastle Racecourse was abandoned.

Earlier an inspection found the course fit with the going classed as heavy.

A spokeswoman later confirmed that tomorrow's racing has now also been cancelled.

Commuter Garry Gerrard, who was heading from Newcastle to Durham City, said: "The scenes in Newcastle were amazing.

"I was down on The Quayside when the sky went black and then this rain started that you just couldn’t see through.

"The roads were like rivers. The concourse at the Central Station was ankle deep in water.

"The train stopped a couple of times where there was flooding. It was like a paddy field in places."

But flooding did close The East Coast Main Line between Newcastle and Berwick.

The Tyne and Wear Metro railway was severely disrupted - the Haymarket and Monument stations were closed because of flooding in the street.

Debris closed the line between Gateshead Stadium, and Heworth and there were no trains between Regent Centre and Newcastle Airport.

There were reports of flooding in several parts of the region.

Flood alerts were issued across the North-East as tributaries to rivers threatened to burst.

Northumbria Police warned motorists to take care and said flooding and road closures were reported in several places.

The A19 at Seaton BurnNorthumberland, was down to one lane southbound due to standing water.

The Central Motorway East between Newcastle city centre and Cowgate was closed in both directions A Newcastle City Council spokesman said: " Several areas of the city are now flooded and many major roads are currently impassable.

"At the moment we have nine schools affected by flooding - some of these will be shut tomorrow please check our website for details.

"Clearly we have experienced a major weather event that is causing a lot of disruption across the city.

"If you can avoid travelling please do so, but if you must get in your car drive very carefully and allow extra time for journeys. If possible, stay in your place of work until the congestion situation improves."

Meteor Group Weather forecaster Gemma Plumb said: "After torrential downpours and storms this afternoon, we will see more outbreaks of wet weather across North Yorkshire and the North East into the weekend.

"All through tomorrow there will be widespread rain, some as heavy as today.

"This evening should be dryer, but Saturday there will be further showers with a risk of thunder.

"On Sunday the showers should be less frequent."

The Environment Agency warned there was a risk of surface flooding in the North-East and North Yorkshire over the next two days when drainage was overwhelmed by water.