RESIDENTS fled their homes yesterday as the River Windrush in Witney rose dramatically.

But last night it appeared the town had escaped wholesale flooding by the skin of its teeth.

A handful of homes were evacuated in Riverside Gardens during the morning – with some residents taking refuge at Langdale Hall – but they were allowed to return home by the evening.

The River Windrush was on a flood warning last night, meaning homes were expected to flood, and had reached a level of 1.97m – the highest since a measuring device was installed in 2008.

Environment Agency spokes-man Jo Slimin said: “The situation is improving but the level may still go up a bit. We have got flood data officers going into the area to make sure we’ve got all the information.”

She said the region could see another 15mm of rainfall in the next couple of days, which, with the river at capacity and the ground already saturated, could lead to more risk of flooding.

Riverside Gardens resident Keith Webb, 69, said: “At 8am the water was at the river bank level but now it is right across into the road.

“We were told to move out at 11am. I have popped back now to get more stuff and then we shall be away. It is pretty frightening but there is not anything you can do about it.”

Bridge Street resident Lorraine Brodrick spent two hours before 4pm desperately sweeping water away from her ground-floor home.

She said: “I got home at 2pm and the water was almost up to my door.

“We opened up the manhole covers and have tried to sweep the rainwater away as best we can.

“It has not gone inside yet and in the meantime I feel like at least I am doing something. I cannot just sit here and watch it rise.”

Peter Crowther, who owns Bridge Street music shop Peter Crowther Cellos, said: “We flooded in 2007 and the water is not coming through like it did then. It was a bit like Niagara Falls back then – it just came and took us out very quickly.

“We are all feeling very down in Bridge Street. People were out of their houses for over a year in 2007 – I still haven’t finished the damage in my place.”

Witney Town Council, which made Langdale Hall available for evacuees, said it had plans in place to reopen the hall if it was needed overnight.

The footpath between Witan Way and Cogges, across Langdale Common, was closed by police at 12.32pm yesterday.

West Oxfordshire District Council has handed out about 5,000 sandbags across the district since Wednesday.