AN 89-year-old former teacher told today how she had to be carried to safety, after her cottage in a North Yorkshire village flooded with water.

Ruth Mitchell was trapped upstairs in her home by the deluge that ripped through her pretty beck-side home of almost 60 years in Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe, near Thirsk, on Sunday night, following freak thunderstorms.

The waters destroyed her belongings, flattened a stone wall, wrecked her garden and forced her to seek refuge upstairs.

"I flashed a torch out of the window, but it didn't seem to do much good. Somebody sent for the fire brigade and they came and rescued me," said Mrs Mitchell.

"I don't think I was particularly distressed or panicky... it was just the power of the water that staggered me."

Mrs Mitchell said she saw her belongings carried off in the torrent.

Over the road, Martin Knighton told how he and his family watched as water ripped through his neighbour's garage, puncturing its side and sending one car smashing into the house, and a second car into a shed, destroying it.

Two of the three boats stored in the garage were swept out, and found in fields almost a mile away.

"It went from being nothing to six or seven feet of water in about 15 minutes, I'm not exaggerating," said the trainee website designer.

The neighbour's garden was left littered with muddy belongings - mountain bikes, sails, toys and furniture, which had all been swept away in the torrent.

Mal Austwick, of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "The beck flash-flooded right the way through the bottom of the village. We have had a least half-a-dozen properties severely damaged by flood water. Five or six feet of flood water came through and took everything with it that wasn't fixed down. It's also left eight to ten inches of silt in their homes."

Fire crews also had to rescue an elderly man who was trapped by floodwater. The bridge outside the village to Thirlby, about two miles away, was badly damaged and is impassable to vehicles.

Local MP Anne McIntosh expressed her "deepest regrets and sympathy" for those that have been severely affected by the flash-flooding, particularly in Thirsk, Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe and their surroundings.

A FIRE CHIEF said that lives would almost certainly have been lost if the ferocious flooding that struck North Yorkshire had happened earlier.

Tony Dyer, group manager for North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, spoke as residents and local MP John Greenway inspected damage in Helmsley.

Mr Dyer said: "The water was so ferocious and fast-flowing. Our main concern was the motorcycle rally at Duncombe Park. I'm told the previous night there were 8,000 people there.

"Had it occurred before, I'm almost certain there would've been some loss of life. We did have people clinging on to trees and trapped on islands by rising floodwater."

In total, ten people were rescued from life-threatening situations by the fire service, including several by RAF Sea King helicopters.

As soon as dawn broke yesterday, about 20 householders in Bondgate and Ryegate began a massive clean-up operation, helped by firefighters and district council workers.

Saturated carpets were placed in soggy piles on mud-caked roads while residents waded through inches of thick black silt, surveying the damage in the cold light of day.

"What a mess. I feel absolute sympathy," Mr Greenway said, as he spoke to flood victims in the town.

Helmsley was one of several communities left devastated after a month's rain fell in only six hours on Sunday night, causing rivers to burst their banks.

The ground floor of Jane and Bub Bartlett's home, in Ryegate, became entirely flooded, with two feet of water, ruining their furniture and possessions and leaving behind a layer of mud.

"It hit us very quickly, it was quite surprising. We normally expect it to come up the garden, but of course it came from the road," said Mrs Bartlett.

Butcher Brian Thompson was a double victim of the torrent. Both his home and shop were flooded. He said: "I've been totally flooded. I've had it every which way. It's total devastation."

Up to 300 of his sheep were swept away from their field by the deluge and perished. His daughter's horse was also swept away and injured.

Mr Thompson is waiting to hear if £5,000-worth of cooked meats were spoiled.

The Rev David Wilbourne, of All Saints' Church in the town, said: "It's a community that's a long way from anywhere so it's self-sufficient and people look after one another, and that's what they've been doing."

The town's main bridge over the River Rye was reopened at 3pm yesterday, after engineers confirmed it was structurally sound.

Crisis line

Crisis-hit residents in the Hambleton district should call the dedicated Floodline on 01609 767028 for help, while those in the Ryedale District Council area should phone the authority as usual on 01609 600666.

Updated: 09:53 Tuesday, June 21, 2005