CHARMOUTH floodwarden Mike Whatmore was woken at 4.30am on Saturday by a call from the Environment Agency as the flood risk elevated to ‘severe’.

And severe it was with water rising 2ft in less than 20 minutes said Mr Whatmore, 72.

As flood warden Mr Whatmore kept the Environment Agency informed of the situation and helped make sure everyone was safe – this included waking up some Dutch campers at 6.30am as flood waters neared their tent.

He said: “The water got higher and higher.

“High tide came and went and it seemed to be holding but the suddenly without warning the river rose 2ft and it just came over its banks. It suddenly surged and rose a couple of foot in 15 or 20 minutes. By just after ten it was pouring everywhere. Up on Newlands holiday camp they were having road surface coming up in the drives where the drainage just couldn’t cope with it.”

Drain covers were being thrown off, leaving potentially hazardous holes hidden by flood water, he said.

“If you have surface water even of two or three inches if a drain cover has been thrown off someone can walk along and suddenly disappear down a drain or break a leg.”

By 10.30am houses in the village were being flooded and Mr Whatmore was anxious about an old woman living alone.

He said: “I could see lights on upstairs and I had visions that she was crouched on top of a wardrobe. She wasn’t actually there but nobody knew that until the cleaner turned up.

“She said she was away due to be discharged after a cancer operation but family members were contacted and took her elsewhere.”

Mr Whatmore paid tribute both to the emergency services – the fire and coastguard volunteers – and to villagers.

He added: “Most of the village mucked in and took people in. Some people had to leave their homes and several people on the campsite had to be moved. I would like to congratulate the emergency services, the firemen and the coastguard boys who were moving people’s stuff and helping people out.

“They were so good and local people as well. We ran out of sandbags and couldn’t get through to West Dorset but a local builder Mike Bowditch donated a ton of sand and a young man in the village knew where he could get some bags.”

Terry Gilbert the manager of Dolphins River Park in Berne Lane lost 23 out of 35 caravans.

He said: “It is like a bombsite here.

“They are write offs because of the silt inside. It is horrendous.

“I was up all night listening to the Environment Agency but it came up at such speed and power. Berne Lane was like a tsunami coming in.

“The water was 3ft at times and the speed of the water and power were very frightening.”

He had to order one couple out of their caravan and watched, heart in mouth, as they waded thigh-deep through the flood water.

“They held hands and took their time.

“We had our hearts in our mouths watching them across. He said they could swim but that is not the point in water like this.

“The force of the water was so powerful it was frightening.”

Mr Gilbert also paid tribute to his neighbours for their help.

He added: “The neighbours were extremely supportive. It just shows there is that community spirit when the chips are down.

“An old gentleman who has a caravan here said it was the British Blitz spirit.”