FLOOD-HIT residents have been told it could be several weeks before they can return to their homes.
A major operation is under way to drain a half-mile stretch of contaminated water that turned a tiny stream into a dangerous lake up to 30ft deep in places.
Metres of pipes and 11 pumps are channeling water away from Newburn Dene, Newcastle, where horses grazed until gallons of water gushed to the surface when a culvert or underground tunnel burst in the early hours of Sunday.
Dozens of people were evacuated from flats in Spencer Court and residents in nearby Mill Vale have also been put on alert.
The culvert is on land owned by Northumberland Estates, the business arm of the Duke of Northumberland. A spokeswoman said: “Northumberland Estates has been working closely with engineers from the council on this problem since it was first reported. Both sides have been at the site many times and are busy trying both to ascertain the reason for the collapse of the culvert and find a solution as quickly as possible.”
Council staff have been working round the clock to make the area safe, but have issued a warning to the public to stay away.
Mick Murphy, Technical Director at Newcastle City Council said: “Our immediate priority was the safety of the residents and the wider public which is why we recommended evacuation of some of the flats to police following a significant downpour of rain in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“Engineers on behalf of Dunelm and Northumberland Estates are now carrying out assessments to determine ground conditions around the culvert and the foundations of the flats now that the flood has been cleared. Until then the site will remain cordoned off. We urge people to stay away from the site where police are in regular attendance.
“We are also working around the clock to remove as much flood water as possible that has built up on land north of the development and urge children to stay away, and parents to warn their children not to play there until all of the water has been cleared. Floodwater presents a number of hazards and it is important that people heed this warning.
“We have held a meeting with affected residents to inform them of everything that has happened and their co-operation and patience is greatly appreciated.
“The council is in constant discussions with Dunelm, and Northumberland Estates to help them resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
Newburn Dene and a water culvert run underneath Millfield Lane and the Spencer Court flats, which were built in 2006 by Dunelm Homes.
But it is believed that the culvert underneath the building had failed to cope with Saturday night’s heavy rain.
And local authority officials feared the flats’ foundations might not cope with the flooding and the building could be at risk of falling down.
Paula Davison, 47, an older persons care scheme manager, lives with husband Colin, a paramedic, and sons Sean, 21 and Jamie, 19, in Mill Vale.
She said: “We moved here as we thought it was a beautiful little oasis and would be our home for life. It was terrifying, all we heard was a gushing of water and when I looked outside the water was streaming in through the fence.
“ It is very worrying, as our houses are probably going to be unsellable now.”