FLASH floods caused chaos in parts of the North East yesterday as lightning struck railway tracks and rain brought roads to a standstill.
The region awoke to black clouds and thunder early in the morning, and torrential downpours continued to cause widespread flooding into last night.
Lightning strikes caused hold-ups on railway lines in County Durham, while firefighters and police were inundated with calls as dozens of roads were closed.
Also in County Durham, Ushaw College, a Catholic priests’ seminary, was struck by a powerful lightning bolt, damaging the roof.
Businesses were affected by the deluge, with a PC World superstore in Kingston Park, Newcastle, closing yesterday afternoon when water scrambled the store’s electrics.
Meanwhile, memories of the recent sunny spell were washed away as pedestrians dived for doorways and dodged huge puddles in an attempt to take shelter in town and city centres.
Firefighter Chris Lowther, group manager for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said his crews had experienced one of the busiest shifts of the year.
He said: “It’s been absolutely chock-a-block. The calls started coming in from Kenton and Fawdon in the afternoon, and then swept across towards Gateshead. The main problems were standing water on roads and water getting into people’s homes.
“The number of calls reached the stage where we were extremely stretched, and at that stage we assess each situation to make sure the right resources are going to the right places.
“But because of the water, it makes actually getting to the incidents difficult. There’s a huge possibility of road traffic accidents, but thankfully we didn’t see any of them.”
Network Rail said lightning strikes had caused loss of signalling along tracks between Durham and Littleburn, causing delays between 1.30 and 2.15pm.
Lightning also caused a momentary power cut to the railway at Ferryhill, County Durham, but power was taken from a generator to protect services.
Northumbria Police said motorists had run into trouble on more than a dozen roads on Tyneside, including the Wallsend Road in North Shields, Saltwell Road in Gateshead, Barrack Road in Newcastle, Ullswater Way in Slatyford, Newcastle, and the Western Highway in Washington.
The Coast Road at Heaton, Newcastle, was waterlogged for much of the afternoon, as were Fossway and Coutts Road in Walker, Newcastle, and Ravensworth Road in Dunston, Gateshead. Other roads affected in Gateshead included Beaconlough Road and Southend Road, Lobley Hill Road in Lobley Hill and Coldwell Street in Felling.
Stamfordham Road in Newcastle was closed both ways for a short time, while a burst water pipe at Silver Lonnen, Fenham, temporarily halted traffic.
Durham Constabulary said problems were largely confined to the north of the county, with disruptions to the A181 between Wellfield and Durham, the A690 at the top of Carrville high street and at Mill Lane, Shincliffe.
Metro trains were halted between Kingston Park and Regent Centre stations in Newcastle between 1.30 and 2.15pm after floods swamped level crossings.
However, Northumberland appeared to have escaped the disruption last night, with emergency services attending no flood-linked incidents.
The rains were set to continue today, as weather forecasters blamed the unpredictable weather on a lingering low pressure cycle.
But those looking forward to seeing the start of the England vs Australia Ashes Test Match should see some cricket, as the rain is expected to ease in the middle of the week.
A spokesman for national forecaster MeteoGroup said: “Unfortunately this seems to be typical of the summer weather. What we have got is a run of very showery weather.
“There is an area of low pressure combining with the sunny weather we had at the start of July which is causing scattered showers and storms.”
For the latest weather forecast, go to www.journallive.co.uk/weather