THE nightmare before Christmas is how flood victims in Port Clarence have described being evacuated from their homes and then returning to scenes of devastation following Thursday's freak storm surge.
As the major clean-up operation begins in the remote Stockton village on the bank of the Tees, its stunned residents are still reeling from the shock of the river breaking its banks.
Decorations on the ceiling are the only giveaway that Christmas is less than three weeks away in Vikki Watson’s house on Laburnum Grove, a street still two feet underwater hours after the high tide and now covered in worms.
She managed to get presents safely upstairs and pile as much furniture up off the floor as she could before her family was evacuated along with 147 other households to the Billingham Forum ‘rest centre’ by emergency services at about 5pm yesterday (THURS).
“Within seconds there was water coming in the back garden and up the street and then the power went off so I had to pack bags in the dark,” she said. “We decided to come home late last night but I’ve been up since 5am in case the high tide caused another flood. Every single knock or noise made me jump – it has been a nightmare.
“Water reached the top step, if it had come in I don’t know what I would have done, it would have been a total drama. I was really frightened – water is the one thing in life that really scares me.”
Across the road, Brian Smith added: “I was terrified to come home last night, after the stories I was hearing about how bad it was. I’m just so glad water didn’t get into the house but I’m really angry that because we live in Port Clarence, which has a bad name, nobody from the council has yet made contact.”
Northern Powergrid engineers worked through the night to repair damage after thousands of homes and businesses suffered power cuts when five electricity substations across the region flooded.
On Holly Terrace where the ground floor of homes suffered flood damage, rugs and other sodden belongings were hanging over fences to dry in the cold December sunshine.
“I am completely devastated,” said Nicola Mulloy. “In the kitchen and front room everything is ruined but thankfully the Christmas presents were upstairs. I just feel absolutely deflated - I don’t know where to start but there’s no point in worrying because everyone is in the same boat.”
Her neighbour, Paul Kennedy, said: “When I got into the house the damage had already been done. My daughter’s toys were all over the floor, my sofa is ruined as is washer, cooker and fridge freezer.
“It is soul destroying. I cannot put into words how I feel. I lost my mum last year and now this, I can’t deal with it.”
Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook, said: "We are working with many different agencies from emergency services through to health organisations and voluntary and community groups who have all worked tirelessly to help keep our residents safe."
On Tyneside, a clean-up operation was also underway on Newcastle's quayside, where buildings, including the city's law courts, were cleared as a precaution after the River Tyne burst its banks on Thursday.
Police cordoned off the road from Chase bar to the courts and traffic was brought to a standstill as water poured over the roads and pavements between the Tyne Bridge and Millennium Bridge.
A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: "There is still the chance that there could be localised flooding in some areas and so extra officers will remain out in affected communities throughout the day.
"There are no reported road closures at this time and motor patrols officers will be out on the roads ensuring the networks remain open and clear for motorists."