EMERGENCY services this afteroon halted their search for a person reported to have been washed away by a river - believing it may have been a yellow flotation ring.

Firefighters, police, Swaledale Mountain Rescue together with the Cleveland Air Support helicopter searched the River Swale at Catterick Village between Marne Barracks downstream to Great Langton, after an alert was raised at 11.25am.

A spokesman for North yorkshire Police said the search failed to find anyone, adding: "It is now believed that a yellow floatation ring may have been mistaken for a person."

"At around 3.05pm this afternoon a yellow floatation ring was found at Kiplin. It is likely that this is the object that was seen in the river this morning and as a result search teams have been stood down."

It is understood that the call was made with good intent by a member of the public who believed there was a man in a yellow coat in the river.

A major incident was decared in Hartburn, Stockton, where 29 properties have been evacuated as water levels rose to around four feet -with levels expected to rise throughout the day.

Many residents have gone to a local community centre for shelter.

Cleveland Police are asking those householders who left of their own accord to get in contact so everyone can be accounted for.

Other areas within the Cleveland Force area at risk of flooding include Yarm , Eston and others which are near to water courses.

Motorists are also asked to avoid Yarm town centre as a burst drain is causing traffic congestion and police are turning vehicles back.

The heavy rain and flooding have also caused major disruptions on railways and roads across the north of England and Wales, including the East Coast Mainline and a 30 mile stretch of the A1 between Dishforth and Darlington.

Some areas have seen more than a months rain fall in 24 hours, and with more heavy rain on the way, further surface water and river flooding are likely as the water moves down rivers over the next two days.

The River Wear burst its banks near the Riverside in Chester-le-Street , while there was also flooding alongside the Cong Burn tributary in the town.

It also breached its banks in Durham city centre, with water lapping onto Framwelgate Waterside, near the passport office at Milburngate House.

Among the major road closures were the northbound stretch of the A1 on the Western Bypass of Gateshead, causing tailbacks as far south as Carrville, near Durham, at peak rush hour and leading to gridlock on the Team Valley.

Further south on the section of the A1(M) between Bradbury and Bowburn in County Durham lane closures were in place.

The A19 was closed in several sections, in County Durham, including the section near the A179 junction, which was blocked towards Hart Village, and further south near Wolviston.

Diverted traffic struggled to find passable routes due to minor road flooding.

The A690 Durham to Sunderland road was closed at Houghton Cut, in Houghton-le-Spring, the A68 at Kiln Pit Hill, near Castleside in north-west Durham, was also closed with five cars stranded due to flood conditions.

There were problems in Wingate, east Durham, with the road to Station Town blocked.

Closures on the A167 included part of Park Road, Chester-le-Street, the southbound section between Plawsworth and Pity Me, near Durham, and south of the city, either side of Sunderland Bridge, over the River Browney, near the Honest Lawyer pub.

The River Gaunless Dam near Bishop Auckland is working to protect nearly 600 properties in South Church and West Auckland from flooding.

Currently the Environment Agency has teams in Morpeth, Durham and the Gaunless. Flood Gates have also been closed at Yarm and Neasham Abbey and at Stokesley . Temporary flood defences have also been deployed at Rothbury, Northumberland .

Philip Welton, area base controller for the Environment Agency, said: "We've mobilised teams across the region to check on flood defences, clear and river blockages and closely monitor river levels."

The Met Office is forecasting further downpours in northern England today, with 25mm to 50mm (1-2 inches) set to fall in some areas.

By midday, the Environment Agency had 73 flood warnings for rivers in place, and more than 150 less serious flood alerts.

In Morpeth, large tree trunks and debris were being swept along by the river as it continued to rise.

About 90 residents from the Dawson Place area of the town were evacuated as a precaution, and a rest centre has been set up in the town hall.

About 30 to 40 residents in Newburn, Newcastle, were evacuated from their homes, and Mill Lane in the area has been cordoned off after it collapsed.

Rosemary Murdie, 20, who is pregnant, said: "We could hear the water gushing in at just after 5am, it was like a river.

"It's come up to the window sill on the ground floor. Everything is ruined, it's really upsetting and the water is filthy."

On the A690 westbound, just off the A19 west of Sunderland, Northumbria Police said the road had collapsed and was likely to remain closed for some time.

East Coast trains said there was no service on the East Coast Main Line between York and Darlington because of flooding at Eryholme, near Croft, preventing the running of East Coast services between London and Scotland.

Because of flooding on roads south of Darlington it was not possible to run a rail-replacement bus service, and passengers were being advised not to travel today. Tickets for today will be valid tomorrow.

The flooding was affecting East Coast, CrossCountry and First TransPennine Express services. The west coast train route to Scotland is still open.

East Coast trains spokesman John Gelson said: "We apologise to customers for the disruption to their journeys today.

"Very heavy rain across a wide area of northern England is affecting all travel today, and conditions are not expected to improve until this evening.

"Our advice to customers is to delay their journeys until the situation improves."

The Met Office said some areas had received far more rain than they would expect in September since Sunday, with Ravensworth in North Yorkshire receiving 108mm (4.3 inches) compared with the usual total for the month of 47mm (1.9 inches).

The heavy rain is due to a area of low pressure which had moved north across the country from the Bay of Biscay and was now off the North-East coast.