DEVASTATED families were left counting the cost of a ruined Christmas after flooding forced them out of their homes.
Many had to flee and be rescued in boats as water consumed their properties during the heavy rainfall that brought chaos to the region over the festive period.
One of the worst affected areas was Stoke Canon, near Exeter, with around 20 families needing to be evacuated on Sunday morning.
They later returned to try and salvage what they could but discovered possessions and presents had been ruined.
Among them was Jo Kertland, 42, who had to be rescued by a kayak in the village from her home in Chestnut Crescent, along with her two children and three dogs.
She said: "I got up at 6am to feed the dogs and before you knew it we were under six inches of water throughout the house. We all evacuated upstairs with the dog and some lads from the village then rescued us on kayaks. The water was chest deep out in the road.
"We then went into the pub where my dogs were picked up to put in kennels and a friend came to pick up the kids.
"We have just come back and everything is ruined. I just feel totally numb. We had been gearing up for Christmas and had people coming here. But that is all ruined now.
"I am just trying to salvage as much as I can but a lot of it has gone. Even my car was totally flooded. I have only been living in for the village for a year but everyone has been brilliant. We are a really strong community."
Another household affected was that of Mandy Plumridge, who lives at the late Kings Arms in the village with her husband and four children. She said: "We are devastated and had to evacuate our house. We had no power and seven inches of water in the house. The whole downstairs is destroyed. I just went into the kitchen in the morning and it was covered in water. I woke my husband up and water was coming up through the floor. All the sandbags in the world wouldn't have stopped it. The whole of the downstairs looks awful." Mrs Plumridge, who is playing a leading role in the pantomime at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter, added: "I am dreading going back and don't know how bad it is. We had just done the house up ready for Christmas and everything was perfect. But now it is totally destroyed. We cannot move back and all our electrical items have been destroyed. All the family were coming to us for Christmas including my brother who had travelled over from Australia.
"But we had to phone them all up to say that it was off."
The pub in the village, which was taken over by the villagers to become a thriving community pub, acted as a refuge centre for those affected.
Maggy Clark, who is chairman of the Stoke Canon Inn, said: "The pub acted as a refuge with many of those who were flooded out coming in to seek shelter. We were open all day. The water kept rising but we kept sweeping it out.
"Despite what happened people were in amazing spirits. "This is when the community pub really came into its own. There was one house where the family had already gone home for Christmas and a neighbour had to break in to rescue their cats. Everyone has been looking out for each other."
Jenny Harrison, who has lived in the village her whole life, said: "My son George owns a kayak and he just went round to some of the houses to check people were ok. He rescued a few people who were stranded.
"My neighbours either side of me were both flooded and we lost all our electrical power.
"The roads were like rivers – completely impassable. There was one car that just floated around the village and ended up far down the road.
"They have spent a lot of money on the flood defence system since the last major flooding we had here but it does not seem to be enough. The power to the pump was cut out.
"It is very shocking for the people who have been flooded but we are an amazing community here and everyone pulls together. Everyone has tried to stay in good spirits but it is obviously extremely difficult for people who have lost their contents and presents just before Christmas."
Fire crews said around 20 people had to be rescued by boat in Stoke Canon. The dramatic moment one elderly couple were evacuated was captured by resident Mike Brown.
He said: "The elderly lady was in a wheelchair and they had to be rescued from their home in Sanson Close by boat. The water has started to recede and people in the village are still in good spirits."
Elsewhere, the flooding affected properties in Bonhay Road and Mill Lane in Exeter, with shelter being provided for some residents at the Coaver Club at County Hall.
David Jim, the landlord of the Cowley Bridge Inn, was also faced with a major clear-up operation after it was hit by two feet of water.
While trains were suspended in and out of Exeter and travel disruption is expected to continue over the next few days, fire crews were praised for helping to prevent major disruption of the rail network by using a portable dam at Cowley Bridge.
Mid Devon was also badly affected and Mike Burch, senior director of Market Carpets, said his Tiverton shop was flooded out and would need to close.
He said: "We have had a disaster – the store is completely flooded and we have had no option but to close it down. All the stock is drenched and we have piles of carpets destroyed."
Mr Burch said all customer files and orders were being transferred to the store in Marsh Barton. In total fire crews from Devon and Somerset rescued 74 people from flooding over the last week. They pumped water out of 61 properties and assisted other agencies with widespread flooding incidents.
They were assisted by a number of rescue boat teams from the RNLI, Severn Area Rescue Association, West Midlands Search and Rescue Team as well search and rescue helicopters and high volume pumps from other counties. Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell said: "I am incredibly proud of my staff, many of whom were working in extremely difficult conditions to protect the public."
See a the video of one Stoke Canon home on Christmas Eve below: