Page last updated at 08:41 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 09:41 UK

Floods clean-up operation begins

An elderly woman is rescued in Morpeth
Hundreds of people were moved out of their homes in Morpeth

A huge clean-up operation is beginning in Northumberland after the worst flooding to hit the county in 50 years.

More than 1,000 properties were affected, with Morpeth being hardest hit as about 400 people were moved to safety. No-one was seriously hurt.

Council officials say it will be months before everyone affected will be allowed back into their homes.

Floods recovery minister John Healey was due to meet residents in Morpeth and emergency services staff on Monday.

Water levels were subsiding on Monday, but forecasts for more rain on Tuesday could see the River Wansbeck burst its banks again.

More than 40 flood warnings remain in force in the north-east of England and Cumbria.

At its peak Morpeth High Street was under 2ft (0.6m) of water, with the Environment Agency recording almost 6ins (150mm) of rain falling in the area on Friday and Saturday.

The town's library suffered some structural damage, with local authority engineers assessing its safety.

Morpeth library
Morpeth library suffered some structural damage

Ken Dunbar, chief executive of Castle Morpeth Council, said: "The biggest problem is the hundreds of families that were evacuated from their homes.

"We will have to accommodate a lot of homeless people and they need to know that this will take weeks if not months.

"This has been a highly traumatic experience, but we should be glad that there was no loss of life."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has asked Mr Healey to report back to him on the situation in the North East.

While in Northumberland, Mr Healey will announce the government will operate the Bellwin scheme, which provides emergency state financial aid to local authorities to meet the costs of an emergency or disaster.

Later in the week, the minister will meet insurance industry chiefs to discuss their plans for dealing with what may be a large number of claims in affected areas as quickly and effectively as possible.

Paul Hedley, of Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, described Morpeth as "a scene of utter devastation."

Firefighters, ambulance crews, the RAF and the RNLI were among the emergency services involved in rescue an recovery operations over the weekend.

Other parts of the region were bit by torrential rainfall, including parts of County Durham and Teesside.

More than 1,000 properties were flooded
Hundreds of homes in Morpeth were affected

Lustrum Beck, in Stockton-on-Tees, and Keswick campsite in Cumbria were also flooded.

The chief executive of Northumberland County Council, Steve Stewart, praised the town's residents for their "spirit".

Most major road routes in the region are open.

But a section of the Tyne and Wear Metro between Kingston Park and Newcastle Airport remains closed after Callerston Parkway station was flooded.

The Environment Agency's regional flood defence manager Mark Tinnion said flood defences helped to prevent the situation worsening.

He said recently completed defence schemes for South Church and West Auckland and Hexham operated as planned, along with defences at Ponteland, Yarm, Croft and Stokesley. Together, these prevented around 1,200 properties from flooding.

Mr Tinnion added: "River levels are now starting to fall, however we would ask people to remain vigilant."

Morpeth a 'scene of devastation'
07 Sep 08 |  England
Drivers rescued from flood water
05 Sep 08 |  Cornwall
County battles against heavy rain
05 Sep 08 |  Gloucestershire
Yorkshire prepares for flooding
05 Sep 08 |  England


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