A BUS which got stranded in floodwater in North Yorkshire this morning was carrying nearly 30 schoolchildren and had passed signs warning the road was closed.
Firefighters were called by some of the youngsters on the service heading for Easingwold School, when it became stranded near the village of Newton-on-Ouse, just north of York.
The passengers posted pictures of the rising water levels inside the vehicle as others smashed a window at the back of the bus.
Gace Abbott, 15, said: “We felt the bus tilt and that’s when water started gushing through the bus. Everyone ran across to the other side of the bus to stop us capsizing and tipping over. He was shouting down the phone to the bus company so I thought we had to phone the fire brigade because there was no way we were getting out of there on our own.”
Grace said many of the younger children were crying and a girl who tried to smash the window cut her hand.
Fire crews from across North Yorkshire responded to the call and a swift water rescue team was also deployed.
The children were all taken off the stricken vehicle by firefighters and put on another bus.
North Yorkshire County Council said the bus driver went through a road closure sign as the route taken by the bus, between Tollerton and Newton-on-Ouse, has been closed by the highways authority since the heavy rains and flooding after Christmas.
“We put road closure signs out during flooding for a very good reason - to keep people safe,” said County Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Highways.
“Roads all over the county have been affected by flood waters and some remain so. We would urge drivers to comply for the sake of their own safety and not drive through closure signs when there is flooding. It is not possible to tell how deep the water is on flooded roads and drivers can quickly find themselves in trouble - along with their passengers.
“We will be working with the management staff at (bus company) Stephenson’s to ensure that the incident is fully investigated and appropriate action is taken.”
The council said the bus service was being operated under contract by Stephenson’s of Easingwold.
It said there were no official reports of any injuries and the children were taken on to the school or collected by parents and taken home.
Those students who went in to school were given hot drinks, hot food and dry clothes. Counselling has also been made available.
“Both emergency services and the school were alerted about the incident by a student,” said Easingwold School head Phil Benaiges.
“I understand that students were very supportive of each other, despite the difficult circumstances. We worked very hard to keep the relevant parents informed, of both the initial incident and when students were safe and sound.
“I would like to thank the prompt and professional approach of the emergency services, the staff involved in school and particular thanks and best wishes go to our students who dealt so well with a potentially serious situation. I am very proud of their responsible and calm behaviour in the circumstances.”
At the scene, the single-decker bus lay abandoned in the flood, with the front of the vehicle submerged in the waist-high water. The bus appeared to have been swept off the road by the overflowing river and rested at an angle against a hedge.
A door in the middle of the vehicle had been left open and a window had been smashed towards the rear of the bus. A recovery vehicle arrived and parked on the edge of the flooded road with its lights flashing.
The father of a stranded schoolgirl, who didn’t want to be named, went to pick his daughter up from the bus and passed three signs that said the road was closed and indicated flooding.
He said: “When I went to pick my daughter up, I passed two signs that said the road was closed and a third sign which said “flood”.
“I’ve lived in Newton-on-Ouse for a long time and know the road very well. You could see that the driver has slipped off the road on the S-bend and down into the ditch.
“The ditch is quite deep and the water was halfway up the side of the bus.
“The water on the road was at least ten feet deep and all the surrounding fields were flooded.
“I’m assuming that he didn’t want to go another way - if he’d gone on a detour to avoid the road it would have taken him an extra 15 minutes.”
The bus company apologised to the children and their families for the “unfortunate incident” and said the driver would be interviewed at the earliest opportunity.
Stephensons of Easingwold said the company was conducting a detailed investigation with the council and the school involved.
In a statement, the company said on Tuesday: “This morning there has been an incident involving a school bus transporting children to Easingwold School, where the bus has unfortunately entered a flooded area and become partially submerged as a result.
“We express our sincere apologies to the children who were on the service this morning as well as to their families for this unfortunate incident.
“We are very pleased to report that there were no serious injuries as a result of this incident and everyone was successfully rescued from the bus unharmed.”
Stephensons said the company would issue a further statement once investigations had been completed.
Separately, it was claimed today that as many as a thousand businesses in West Yorkshire may have suffered losses due to the floods in the county over the festive period.
West Yorkshire Police said in a statement that the true picture of the damage done was only now starting to emerge after “the worst flooding to hit parts of West Yorkshire in 70 years”.
The force said in a statement: “The costs of the infrastructure known to have been damaged, as well as to homes and businesses, is likely to run into many millions of pounds.”
It has emerged that as well as the bridges at Elland and Linton, the Crowther canal and Copley bridges suffered damage.
West Yorkshire Police said: “Some schools in Calderdale have also experienced disruption in commencing the new term.
“People returning home from seasonal breaks to find damage, has seen the number of homeowners affected continuing to rise.
“for business remains a key priority, with manufacturing and other businesses in Leeds and Calderdale particularly badly affected, and numbers potentially approaching a thousand when local businesses occupying multi-tenancy properties are taken into account.”
Yesterday, the West Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum, made up of the emergency services, all five local authorities and other key partners, met up to co-ordinate the recovery effort.
The police statement said: “Local authorities are continuing urgent work with the Environment Agency and other partners to assess the damage and identify those affected and are appealing for anyone who has not yet been in touch to contact them.
“to quantify the numbers and financial impact of the floods more accurately are an important focus for the coming week so that help can be directed to where it is most needed - as well as keeping the public informed.
“We remain vigilant in monitoring the present situation and weather forecasts.”