The Earl of Wessex visited Sussex to meet shopkeepers, residents and farmers whose homes and businesses were destroyed by floods.

Crowds lined the streets to welcome Prince Edward, who heard first-hand accounts of the devastation caused by the worst floods in Sussex in decades.

Jeweller Vernon Bishop, 54, told the Royal how he prayed and feared he was going to die when he was swept away by the flood water.

He said: "I was in the water and thought nobody was going to see me. I had expected death by then and I had a prayer to God.

"Just as I finished saying it, my legs got trapped in a tree and I was eventually able to drag myself up on the bank."

The Prince met leaders of emergency services before visiting the worst-hit areas in Lewes and Uckfield.

His visit followed "deep concern" by the Royal Family at the plight of the Sussex flood victims.

The Prince arrived in police headquarters in Lewes in a bottle green Audi for his first stop, a guided tour of the nerve centre at the heart of flood rescue operations.

Emergency He was introduced to representatives from all the agencies who worked together to control some of the worst flooding Sussex has seen and was told how officers from the Environment Agency, East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police and fire services worked up to a 26-hour shift to co-ordinate emergency plans.

When he discovered the Gold Command Suite nerve centre had been managed by a husband and wife team, the Prince chuckled and looked taken aback.

But Inspector John Dunkling and wife Sergeant Helen Dunkling, who worked for 26 hours running the Command Suite, said they were pleased the Prince was there to acknowledge everyone's hard work.

When he heard the flood control team had worked together to manage floods in Pevensey Bay last year, the Prince joked that it must have been something of a reunion for everyone to work together again.

Outside, the Prince visited parts of the town worst hit by the flooding to speak to shopkeepers, who face the next six months trying to get their businesses back on track.

He was met by local dignitaries, including MP Norman Baker, Mayor Jim Daly and town clerk Chris Walsh.

Among those he spoke to was Henry Cade, who runs Cade Croft Fabrics in Cliffe High Street, who said: "He was a very nice man. It's nice to know that members of the Royal Family care."

Well-wishers jostled to take pictures as the Prince stopped and chatted to the hoards of people who had thronged Cliffe High Street to catch a glimpse of him.

Among them was Marion Johnson, contracts manager of East Sussex County Council, who helped run the rest centre for the floods victims at Lewes Town Hall.

She was one of a band of officials who looked after more than 300 people driven from their homes by floods.

She said: "I think the Prince's visit has touched the feeling of local people and raised their morale in what are very difficult times. This also shows there are people outside East Sussex who are thinking of us."

As the Prince walked over Cliffe Bridge he was shown the historic Harveys Brewery which, like many businesses, is facing costs which run into thousands of pounds.

Head brewer Miles Jenner said: "We are desperately trying to get back into production but it looks as if we are a long way off. There is still a lot of water that needs to be drained out and until then we cannot do much."

The Prince then moved onto the Cliffe Dry Cleaner Company, where he caught staff in buoyant mood, despite their business being sodden.

He quipped: "I suppose there's quite a need for dry cleaning at the moment."

As the Prince walked through Cliffe High Street the full scale of the devastation became apparent.

Vehicles, homes, businesses and anything else that stood in the flood water path had been destroyed.

Civil engineer Chris Webb told the Prince he was heartbroken after his beloved AC Cobra car, which he had spent two years building by hand, fell victim to the floods.

Mr Webb, 52, said: "I built every nut and bolt on the car. It is heartbreaking."

He and wife Jill, 52, were still draining water from their home which, at the height of the floods, had built up to more than five feet.

After sympathising with the Webbs, the Prince told reporters: "It is the most awful of situations, but the wonderful thing is the spirit that the local community has shown in such a very difficult situation."

Mayor Jim Daly, told the Prince a fund had been sent up to support flood victims in Lewes.

Coun Daly said: "It has been an extremely well-received visit. The people of the town have come out in force and shown their appreciation."

Mr Bishop, of Vernon Jay Jewellers, Uckfield, was trying to save his High Street business when he was swept into the River Uck.

He said: "I thought I was going to die. The water was coming up over the windows and I realised that I was better off trying to get out.

"I squeezed through the gap in the door and held on to the door knob. I was being pushed one way and then the other by the waves. When I let go I was ripped away from the door and then carried into the river."

Aftermath Shopkeepers said they were heartened by the visit from the Royal in the aftermath of the worst floods for 40 years.

Derek and Ivy Maynard, who run Pet Supplies in Bell Walk Shopping Arcade, estimate they lost £25,000 worth of stock when the River Uck burst its banks.

Mr Maynard said: "This happened to us seven years ago and I didn't think it would happen again. It doesn't look like we are insured for the damage.

"It was nice of Prince Edward to bother coming here, he was very sympathetic and seemed like a nice chap."

Pupils from Uckfield Community College crowded round the Prince eager to talk to him and shake his hand.

He also visited the fire station to meet crews and other representatives from the emergency services.

Farmers from the Isfield area told Prince Edward of their desperation after floods swept through their lands, destroying crops and causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Martin and David Williams, farmers at the Tile Barn Farm, near Isfield, lost up to 10,000 chicks when water gushed into their poultry sheds.

David Williams said the loss of the chicks was a disaster for the farm as well as being very sad.

Brothers Martin and Crispin Tebbutt said it was very upsetting to lose livestock, especially when the animals died in terror.

Together with their father Norman, the brothers own Boathouse Farm which has 200 acres of organic crops.

Crispin Tebbutt estimated the farm had lost more than £23,000 from damage to the potato crop alone.

Martin Williams said: "Crisis is such an over-used word but for many farmers this will be the final blow."

Martin Tebbutt said: "We talked about the farming crisis and the low incomes. All sorts of issues not unrelated to the flooding.

"He was very sympathetic and was quite disturbed to see how much water there still is over farmland.

"I was pretty impressed."