In the school hall, tempers are rising along with the water

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The Independent Online

They huddled on mats in the classrooms. Looking like wartime refugees, the plastic tags around their necks bore their name, age, address and the time when they wearily trooped into Brayton Secondary School in Barlby, near Selby, North Yorkshire, now in use as an evacuation centre for those forced out of their homes by flooding.

They huddled on mats in the classrooms. Looking like wartime refugees, the plastic tags around their necks bore their name, age, address and the time when they wearily trooped into Brayton Secondary School in Barlby, near Selby, North Yorkshire, now in use as an evacuation centre for those forced out of their homes by flooding.

But at least they were dry. About 400 houses in Selby were flooded after the river Ouse burst its banks on Friday, and water levels were waist-high yesterday in some parts of the town.

Betty Price, 46, spent the weekend at the school with her brother and two daughters aged 17 and 10, after evacuating her home in the early hours of Friday morning.

"There is no one left there now," she said. "You cannot get the bus or Army in. We had no warning as such. The Army just came. The Ouse is just 10 yards from our home and it is flooded. We didn't have time to move furniture. No one is allowed up there now.

"It has horrendous effects. I have had to leave my two cats, and the RSPCA say they cannot get into the area. There is so much going on. We have not slept for 48 hours. Tempers are starting to get frayed."

Paul Town, 49, a manager from Barlby, was fed up. "I am still in my work clothes. We are starting to get smelly," he said. "We have no change of clothing. You cannot get back to our house. The kids thought it was all good fun to start with, but that soon changed when a horrible smell started to drift into the water."

St John Ambulance and WRVS volunteers handed out warm drinks, chips and bacon sandwiches to about 200 of the 800 people forced to evacuate Barlby, half a mile from Selby town centre. Others who arrived at the school turned their noses up at what was on offer and went to stay with relatives.

With more heavy rainfall and gales expected last night, police warned residents they may not be able to return home for several days. Up to 6,000 more people are on standby to be moved as floodwaters threaten to reach their highest levels in 100 years.

A further three inches of rainfall is expected in parts of England over the next three days, according to the Met Office. Hundreds of thousands of tons of water were threatening to burst through a mile-long section of a 10 metre high grass flood bank. Selby already has floodwater on three sides.

Police toured the streets with loudhailers at the weekend, urging residents to leave their homes,as thousands of gallons of water began flowing into residential areas. About 75 per cent of the town lost electricity, and supplies have still not been restored. A severe weather warning was issued in Yorkshire yesterday, but many people in Selby were without power and could not hear radio or television alerts.

Uniformed patrols guarded homes from looters, while 100 soldiers from the King's Own Regiment at Catterick, North Yorkshire, sandbagged a 400m stretch of Selby river defences in the town centre.

Inspector Malcolm Green, of North Yorkshire Police, said: "At the moment we are monitoring the height of the river very carefully. As a precaution, on Saturday night we evacuated people from the Selby North area, which has around 6,000 people. We have particularly concentrated on the elderly and infirm.

"Other residents have been advised to be ready at short notice. People have been very good. We are telling people if they are advised to evacuate please do so. We do not take these decisions lightly."

Steve Shaw-Wright, a local councillor who represents Selby North, said: "This is the worst in most people's living memory. I was working at a reception centre for the last two nights. It has been quite humbling and harrowing to see people arriving with babies in one arm, and black plastic bags with their belongings in the other.

"The area which is in the most danger is the north part of Selby town. On the estate there are about 1,500 to 2,000 homes - about 4,000 people. Some are safe because they are on a hill, but the worst at risk are near the Ouse."

Only two shops - Safeway and Tesco - were open on Saturday. Most of the traffic lights were without power, and the leisure centre was closed.

In stark contrast to those living nearest the town centre, who clutched their belongings and waded through freezing floodwater, revellers two miles away carried on enjoying their firework parties.

The atmosphere in the school over the weekend was a curious mix of Dunkirk spirit and despair, the latter more in evidence as time wore on. Some sat with their heads in their hands, others, suffering from little sleep, snapped at their children. Rumours and tales of woe were swapped, while the sanguine managed to maintain a sense of humour.

Andrew Gibbons, 27, a factory worker from Selby, spent the weekend there with his six children, after having to evacuate his three-bedroom house. "We heard a rumour that our home was going to flood, and then the police came around telling us to get out. I did my GCSEs here. I suppose it's one way of coming back to school. I couldn't wait to leave at 16, now I'm back sleeping on the floor."

It is doubtful that Mr Gibbons will be at work today. Hazelwood Foods, near Selby, famous for making HP Sauce, was under 3ft of water.

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