In 'Uckfield-on-Sea' they prayed for rain, and got it

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The Independent Online

Waves lapped against the doorway of the Lloyds-TSB as rescue boats navigated up a High Street of smashed windows and the floating contents of a supermarket. Welcome to the inland Sussex town that they were yesterday calling Uckfield-on-Sea.

Waves lapped against the doorway of the Lloyds-TSB as rescue boats navigated up a High Street of smashed windows and the floating contents of a supermarket. Welcome to the inland Sussex town that they were yesterday calling Uckfield-on-Sea.

When the waters of the river Uck, the stream that runs through the middle of the town, first began to rise, most residents felt assured it would be a repeat of the minor flood just ten weeks ago.

But when townspeople awoke at 6am yesterday, they cound the centre of Uckfield converted into a raging lake and realised they were at the heart of Britain's flood capital.

Heidi Brown, a shop assistant aged 28, was by midmorning wading across her hallway more than 500 yards from the river as she tried to stop a pile of letters floating away into the neighbour's garden. Surveying her sofa as it bobbed across the lounge, she said: "I woke up and I could hear water bubbling under the doorway. It gave me the fright of my life. I just managed to rescue my computer before 4ft of water rushed into the lounge and the furniture was making a bid for freedom out of the back door. Everything is sodden - utterly ruined."

Forecasters confirmed that the town had received 6in of rain in seven hours on Wednesday night - equivalent to the rainfall for the whole of October.

Surveying the waters laying siege to Boots and the Esso petrol station, 73-year-old Patricia Stegers could barely believe the transformation of the Uck - for once living up to its nickname of the river Yuk.

Mrs Stegers, who has lived in Uckfield for 30 years, said: "I've never seen the like. It's normally just a muddy stream."

However, amid grim warnings that "it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better", Wealden District Council announced it was making emergency supplies of sandbags available to all.

Dozens of rescue workers have also been drafted in, including the crews of RNLI lifeboats from towns where their skills would more normally be needed - Brighton, Eastbourne, Bexhill and Seaford. By mid-afternoon, they had carried out seven rescue operations.

Stan Todd, of the Brighton Inshore Lifeboat, shook his head in dismay at the lack of comprehension of some of the dangers presented by the floods. He said: "People are going out walking their dogs when they are just feet away from the sort of water which can kill them. It beggars belief, the risks people take to carry on normal life."

Threats to life were, however, far from the minds of the crowd gathered on Uckfield High Street as the focus of activity in the town switched to the building worst hit by the deluge.

Such was the force of the tide of water and mud that cascaded through the Somerfield supermarket at about 6am that its windows were smashed and thousands of pounds of stock swept on to the street.

Later, as Uckfield once more battened down the hatches ahead of another night of biblical weather, a possible source of their troubles was given away by a poster pinned at the entrance to the town's college.

It advertised a recent production of a play called Captain Noah. One member of staff admitted: "I'm afraid the scripts did include a prayer for rain. Lots of it."

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