PICKERING has been hit by the worst flooding residents can remember.

There were scenes of devastation yesterday after the town's beck burst its banks, spilling filthy water into homes and businesses.

A day of torrential rain caused waters to rise more than six feet, flooding homes and shops in Beck Isle, Park Street, Market Place and the Ropery.

The town was cut in half, leaving the area a watery playground for local youngsters and older residents trying to mop up the mess from their homes.

One of those unfortunate enough to be caught up in the drama was Stephen Knight, who only bought his home on the Ropery four months ago.

In just a few hours his pristine flat was transformed into a soggy mess when two feet of flood water poured into his new home.

"Thankfully we managed to save most of the furniture - but the water has got everywhere. I reckon it's going to cost anywhere between £10,000 and £15,000 to put right," said the manager for a local building contractor.

"There's no use getting upset. We just have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start again.

"At about 10.30pm a patch of water appeared in the living room and at that time we knew there was nothing to do but go upstairs to bed."

As Stephen and his daughter Helen watched through a bedroom window they saw Scarborough coastguards row down the street, rescuing the stranded and dishing out food and hot water.

At about midnight people living by Pickering railway station, Beck Isle and Bridge Street were told to flee there homes.

Most stayed, but 14 residents and holidaymakers bedded down at an emergency evacuation centre set up in Lady Lumley's School.

One of the families who ended up at the local secondary were Shelia Mooring and her two granddaughters, Gemma and Imogen and great granddaughters who were staying with her at Beck Isle Farm.

The 67-year-old said: "Everything downstairs in the house is ruined and it was really frightening to watch the water pouring in.

Seven of us were in the house at the time and luckily the little ones weren't too bothered by all the chaos. We didn't get a wink of sleep, but thankfully we are all alright."

And their neighbours in Beck Isle who also bore the brunt of the flooding were yesterday coming to terms with the deluge that engulfed their homes.

Peter Croot, who has lived at Rose Cottage with his wife Mary for more than 40 years, said it was the worst flooding in the town he had experienced.

He said: "This is the first time the house has ever been flooded. At first it came in very slowly, but in the space of half an hour there was eight inches of water in my front room. The problem is that when the water is full it hits the Ropery Bridge and there is no where for it to go so it backs up here.

The Environment Agency needs to act and build proper flood defences. There has been a lot of talking but nothing has been done to stop the problem of flooding in Pickering."

Topsy Clinch, who has been crowned Pickering's very own mermaid, remained upbeat despite another washout in her beckside home.

"I'm used to this and I don't let a bit of water get me down," said the 90-year-old.

Police officers were drafted in from all over North Yorkshire to direct traffic and help to evacuate stranded locals.

Fire crews from Pickering also worked through the night and into the day, much to the gratitude of one motorist who needed their help.

Holidaymaker Robert Crowe from Wiltshire was piggybacked to safety by a local firefighter after getting trapped in his car on Tuesday morning.

Dunning's Butchers on Bridge Street was swamped by a foot of water, the first time its owner for 40 years, Tony Dunning, had ever seen the premises flood.

"I didn't expect it, I've never been flooded before," he said. "It's a disaster for a lot of businesses in Bridge Street."

He said he would wait until the water dispersed before swilling the shop out and getting back to normal, adding: "There's a bit of damage, hopefully not too much, but it was a difficult day for Pickering."

The Steam and Moorland Garden Centre in Malton Road, Pickering, was one of the worst hit places but while the gardens suffered, the flood water failed to get into the main buildings by just half an inch, said Bernadette Hopkinson, who runs the business with her husband Charles.

Staff rallied round as the water cleared and she promised: "We shall be open for business today!"

And in nearby Sinnington, the River Severn, which winds through the village, ripped through its grassy banks leaving villagers wading through the main street in water up to their waist.

Properties in Levisham, Settrington, Marton and Normanby were also flooded and council workers distributed sandbags to those most at risk in the district.

But on Tuesday morning residents of Kirby Mills were breathing a sign of relief.

The area, which is usually badly affected by flooding from the River Dove, escaped disaster when water started to subside before it seeped into homes.

Jackie Francis-Lucy, who lives in the quiet hamlet just outside Kirkbymoorside, said: "At its height the water was two steps off the front door and nobody had their homes flooded.

We were lucky and the water must have peaked at about 9.30pm before it started to subside."

A number of schools in North Yorkshire are either closed or partially closed as a result of the severe weather on Monday.

Primary school in Pickering, Sinnington and Thornton-le-Dale were closed as was Lady Lumley's School but despite the bedlam A-level drama students sat an exam in the afternoon.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: "The river level is now dropping, it was two-metres above what it normally is.

Our latest update tells us that the water level has started to drop in Pickering, and it will now move to Malton and Stamford Bridge where we're hoping that the defences will work in that area.

Unconfirmed numbers of properties have been evacuated, we estimate between 50 and 80 in Pickering."

Sgt Roy Brown from Pickering Station said the joined-up relief effort by police, fire, coastguards and council officials worked well.

He said: "We had officers from across North Yorkshire involved in the operation and we minimised more problems by quickly putting diversions in place.

"Along with the fire service, council and coastguards we ensured that everybody trapped in their homes had enough food, hot water and blankets.

"We set up the evacuation centre at Lady Lumley's initially for residents in Sinnington.

Nobody from the village needed to use the facility but by midnight it was clear that people living in certain parts of Pickering would need shelter.

"They received food, drink and sleeping blankets and the catering staff at Lady Lumley's worked through the night and into the morning in the kitchen. They did a sterling job."

Gazette & Herald weather man Paul Hignett, who is based in Pickering, said that so far this month 273 per cent of the average rainfall had fallen in Pickering.

"I've lived here for 10 years and Monday was the third wettest day in that time," he said, adding that the weather day is counted from 9am to 9am, so rain which fell earlier on Monday did not officially count.

"Officially 36mm of rain fell on Monday, but directly before that 16mm fell, putting it up there with the wettest day of 2002," he said.

He said that the next few days would be fairly dry with scattered showers, but that on Sunday low pressure was expected, bringing moderate and occasionally heavy rain. "There is a reasonable chance we could see further flooding," he added.