Outbreaks of 'despicable' looting as heavy rain delivers chaos across north of country


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The Independent Online

Thousands of homes were still under threat of flooding last night after days of heavy rain caused disruption across the North – with outbreaks of looting in some areas.

The most intense September storm for 30 years eased yesterday but some communities were warned they were still at risk from high river levels. Around 50 flood warnings remained in place last night.

Residents of a block of townhouses in Newburn, Newcastle, were among those facing a second night out of their homes after floodwater gouged out the ground beneath the building, which remains cordoned off.

Looters broke into the nearby KB Cycles shop in the town and stole bikes worth tens of thousands of pounds while roads were blocked by water and silt.

Police condemned the "despicable" behaviour and laid on extra patrols. But elsewhere the crisis brought out the better side of human nature. In the Yorkshire Dales one farmer spared his neighbours from being swamped. Jonathan Bradbrook was sitting in his farm house on the outskirts of Ravensworth, near Richmond, on Monday night when he spotted a torrent coming down the lane. He said: "I said: 'There is only one thing I can do – get the water off the road."

The 46-year old father-of-one ran out to the tractor shed and, knowing disaster was only minutes away, used his JCB to start attacking the hedge with a mechanical shovel. He levelled a 10ft wide section and watched as the water poured through the gap and created a lake behind his farm house. He drove back into the village and scooped out another channel to divert water into nearby fields.

A few miles away in Gilling West 2,000 villagers remained divided by a 100m-long lake lapping along the High Street. Dave Walker, 28, and partner Polly Boyce, 24, were awoken at midnight by the fire brigade pumping out the house next door. He said: "When I stepped in the lounge I could feel my feet squelching on the carpet." Ms Boyce added: "It was panic stations, then be managed to get everything we could upstairs." By morning they were homeless.

For village newcomers Chris Pye, 48, and wife Hayley, 44, Tuesday night was spent watching the water creep up the cellar steps of their Georgian home.

He said: "We were lucky. Because we had just moved in there was nothing in the cellar apart from my golf clubs which I managed to grab on Tuesday night."

Some locals blamed a new drainage scheme for the nearby A66 affecting the water table, while others claimed it was the failure to clean out the local beck. Gary Scott, a 52-year-old local plumber, said: "All the road was under water and the beck was just six inches below the bridge by Monday night. "By Tuesday morning the place was devastated." The Association of British Insurers said the storms left 400 homes and businesses flooded and underlined the risk to up to 2.4 million homes, many of which mortgage providers may be increasingly reluctant to lend on.

But in other hotspots such as Morpeth, Northumberland, conditions were improving and water levels were falling.

More flooding could be on the cards by the River Ouse in Yorkshire and its tributaries. Towns under threat include Ripon, Borough Bridge and Tadcaster.