Not since the 1987 hurricane has Sussex suffered so much from the elements.

Monsoon-like downpours and overflowing rivers brought flooding misery to towns, villages and vast stretches of the Sussex countryside.

It brought scores of rescues, acts of heroism, and tales of Blitz-like camaraderie.

There were dozens of stories.

A group of 20 men, women and children were rescued from a food store in flood-hit Uckfield by a team of lifeboatmen.

The party, including night workers stuck in the Somerfield supermarket, and others from flats above the shop, were moved from the town centre to safety.

The evacuation was carried out by RNLI volunteers who went to the scene from Shoreham, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.

The rescued were checked and given refreshments at one of two rest centres set up by Wealden District Council at a local school. no one was injured.

Balcombe rail tunnel was flooded, preventing any trains from passing through to stations south of Three Bridges.

The Gatwick Express rail service between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport reduced its service from four per hour to two, using diesel trains that could pass through the tunnel unaffected.

Gatwick Express lent two dual-power trains to Connex and Thameslink, allowing them to rescue stranded passengers from Brighton, Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill.

The rivers Arun at Billingshurst received a flood warning, as did the Western River Rother from Liss to Midhurst and the River Adur from Burgess Hill to Henfield.

In Lewes, an emergency rescue centre was set up in the town hall to help 60 people who had been washed out of their homes.

Margaret Francis, 67, from Lamport Street, with her dog Duke, had been rescued by a neighbour who carried her on his shoulders to his boat.

She said: "This morning the river just seemed to come up very quickly. We tried to get everything upstairs, and I was carried out. My son stayed in the house as he was worried about looters. The river is still rising."

Kathleen Cunningham, 80, from Morris Road, who remembers the floods in 1960 and says they were not so bad, said: "The police had been telling us this might happen, but we always thought it wouldn't happen.

"The river blew open the back door and the fridge, freezer and everything downstairs was washing around. We were up to our armpits in water.

"Everyone here at the centre has been really, really good."

Officers from Lewes District Council were manning the desk, signing people in and paid for meals which were brought over from the White Heart Inn in Lewes.

Some residents marooned in their homes in Lewes were refusing to leave last night, according to Inspector Bruce Matthews.

Despite several RNLI lifeboat crews making numerous rescue trips along the flooded streets of the town some homeowners preferred to stay behind.

Inspector Matthews said: "Boats are now the only way in and the only way out. We are advising people to leave their homes but we have no power to force them to do so.

"I am very happy with the way operations are going here tonight. My only concern is that Harvey's Brewery is safe with respect to gas and electricity supplies. We are checking that now."

Flood warnings were in place on the Cuckmere River at Hellingly; in Bognor, where homes were evacuated in London Road and Midhurst, where roads were swamped and a local pub had to shut. Firefighters led 51 sheep to safety when they became trapped by rising water levels outside Lewes.

The main A26 road at Lewes was left under water and there were numerous weather-related car crashes. Uckfield's industrial estate of about 400 units was inundated and nearby town centre shopkeepers spoke of their "utter despair" at the damage.

They were helpless as their premises were flooded by 4ft of water. The new owners of the town's Cock and Bull pub said they would have to re-start the business from scratch.

Nigel and Tara Bean, who have owned the pub for three months, said it was the worst flooding anyone had ever seen.

Mr Bean said: "There was really nothing we could do. At one point it was six inches-deep and the next it was 4ft-deep."

Mrs Bean, 25, speaking from the flooded pub saloon, said: "This is total devastation. Everything is ruined, our furniture and all our stock worth literally thousands and thousands of pounds.

In the centre of the town, cars once parked neatly on a garage forecourt lay scattered close to the railway station.

Town mayor Mike Skinner said: "Our entire industrial estate of about 400 businesses has been flooded out, as well as about 30 shops in the town centre.

"The fire station is shut because of flooding and we are having to rely on using the civic centre as a temporary fire station.

"Luckily, people's homes have not been too badly effected, but there is flotsam and jetsam everywhere and one of the problems we have now is that children are picking up chocolate bars that have been washed out of stores and are eating them.

"We are obviously concerned about problems such as this for health reasons as the water is not clean."

When the River Uck overflowed, the town was split with people unable to get from one side to the other.

The Utopia Leisure Centre and the Ridgewood Resource Centre were converted into temporary shelters for those suffering from the effects of the floods. The centres were due to remain open today in case of further rainfall overnight. Buses were also laid on to ferry evacuees to shelter.

The general manager of Caffyns Rover garage in Uckfield said at least 12 cars parked on his forecourt would have to be written off. At least two floated off the forecourt towards the town's main railway line, which was also closed.

A garden shed from several miles away floated and rested on the roof of one Rover 216.

Etchingham station near Hastings was evacuated while its car park was so deep in flood water that about 30 cars were floating and crashing into each other.

In Robertsbridge, shopkeepers and homeowners in the High Street were evacuated with the help of a Coastguard team from Pett.

Arun Council distributed sand-bags to people in Beehive Lane and Sark Crescent, Ferring, while workmen pumped flood water from gardens into a nearby duck pond.

Parts of Crowborough, Forest Row, Bodium, Sedlescombe, Etchingham, Burwash and Robertsbridge also suffered from the deluge which blocked roads.

The A27 between Southwick Hill tunnel to Hollingbury, in Brighton, was closed last night due to flooding, and traffic was diverted.

Bad weather forced the postponement of a ceremony at Hove Town Hall today for Brighton and Hove Council to receive the South-East in Bloom trophy.

Householders on Worthing seafront were marooned in their homes by rising floodwater. Firefighters pumped water from the gardens of about ten properties in Marine Crescent and Alinora Crescent, Goring.

Philip Anstey, of Marine Crescent, said it was the worst flooding he had witnessed in seven years.

He said: "It has happened five or six times before, but for the first time there is a danger of water coming into the house. I am really worried this time. At 6am it was a nightmare."

Mr Anstey praised firefighters from Lancing who came to the rescue. He said: "I am very grateful to these guys."

Several gardens in Bernard Road, West Worthing, were also flooded, forcing firefighters to close off the road.

Some schools in West Sussex were forced to close: Downlands at Hassocks, St Peter's Primary in Ardingly, Lindfield Primary School, Twineham Primary School, St Paul's RC at Haywards Heath and Oakmeeds at Burgess Hill.

Acting head of Bevendean Primary School in Brighton, Wendy Standen, today was counting the cost of the damage to halls and classrooms.

She said three-quarters of the school had been affected, including areas recently recarpeted and redecorated. She said: "Many furnishings will have to be thrown away."

Mrs Standen said: "We've had fantastic support from parents who offered to help."

Managers at a Southwick firm were overwhelmed by the loyalty of their staff when they arrived for work to find the factory floor six inches- deep in water.

Julia Falter at Acell Doors in Manor Hall Road, said: "They were wonderful. Nearly all the 40 staff stayed on to sweep the floors so we could be up and running by lunch time. The director Dino Albertelli was up to his waist in water unblocking drains. Everybody got involved.

"All the electrics had to be turned off so there was no tea or coffee, everyone was cold, wet and miserable but they still kept sweeping. They deserve medals, all of them."

West Sussex Fire Brigade provided a boat and crew from East Wittering to rescue 30 people from industrial units and offices in Lewes.

Six families in Lower Church Road, Burgess Hill, had to be evacuated when water flooded downstairs rooms.

They were moved to emergency accommodation where they may have to stay for ten days. Overloaded drains and water pouring off nearby St John's Park was blamed. Sewage also poured into some homes.

Gatwick Airport policeman Nigel Roberts, 37, his partner Deborah Carr, 32, and children Lloyd, eight and Stephanie, ten, live in one of the homes.

Miss Carr said: "They said it will be seven to ten days before we can go back in, but it will be about a month before we can get new carpets laid or anything like that."

Mr Roberts said: "As far I am concerned it is the drainage system. Burgess Hill is a growing town, and they are not updating it as they should do."

The couple are expecting insurance to cover the loss of their goods, which they estimate at about £5,000.

Firefighters from across the county have been drafted in to flood-hit Uckfield.

Among them was a specialist rescue crew from Crowborough which worked non-stop reaching people stranded. Crew member Terry Bushell said: "We've had people trapped in cars and upstairs in houses. It's been hectic for everyone."

West Sussex Fire Brigade offered ten fire engines to help their beleaguered colleagues in East Sussex.

A spokesman for the East Sussex brigade Brigade said: "I've never known anything like it. One of our firefighters has been in the team for 35 years and says these are the worst floods he's ever experienced.

"We've been called out to accidents, houses which have been flooded, people trapped in cars and all sorts. We haven't stopped and every single fire engine in the county is involved."

Motorists were warned not to make any journeys whatever the reason. Almost every major road was flooded and many were closed. East Sussex was worst hit.

East Sussex schools that closed included Rocks Parks Primary, Uckfield, and Isfield Independent.

At Plumpton Green, near Burgess Hill, tractors were used to get people through Station Road which was blocked by waist-high water.

Rail commuters did not escape the chaos with services from Hastings to London forced to terminate at Tunbridge Wells.

The coast road on the boundary between Worthing and Ferring was flooded to a depth of a foot. Sewage seeping up from the overflowing drains was adding to the problem.

Eric and Beryl Dorrington, of Sark Gardens, Ferring, watched as water filled their driveway. Mr Dorrington, who has lived in Ferring for ten years, said: "I have never seen anything like it."