ABINGDON mayor Lorraine Oates is considering setting up a fund to help the hundreds of victims of the "great flood" that this week wrecked homes and devastated families.

Mrs Oates was so distressed to see the aftermath of last weekend's damage to homes - caused by the River Ock spilling millions of gallons of water into south Abingdon - that she wanted to help relieve the hardship.

She said: "These are early days, as everyone is trying so hard to come to terms with what has happened.

"But I thought it would be a gesture to help people if I could start up a collection and raise money with some events. I will be having talks with my fellow councillors and officers to see what form it might take. I think the town needs to make some gesture. Already we have seen an amazing community spirit develop out of the despair. People have helped each other clear up the mess and salvage possessions.

"Some councillors have been the victims of the floods. People have taken in others to provide shelter and have looked out for elderly and vulnerable people. It is heartening to see such community spirit."

Abingdon escaped a 'double whammy' by the skin of its teeth when the River Thames failed to replicate the damage caused by its smaller tributary, the Ock.

But residents were advised not to drop their guard as more water was expected to join the Thames from tributaries upstream.

The deluge was the biggest and most damaging to have hit Abingdon for 40 years.

Some said the floods were the worst in living memory and something never known before at the height of summer.

Homes close to the Ock were devastated. Businesses were disrupted, roads flooded and bus and train services cancelled.

The Ock broke its banks on Saturday night and within hours water consumed hundreds of homes. Insurance bills will run into millions of pounds.

The floods also stretched along Drayton Road and a large part of Ock Street.

The Tesco superstore closed after its car park flooded. The Ock Mill pub was forced to close and the Travel Inn next door was also shut.

Mayott House was evacuated and its elderly residents went to relatives or hotels. More than 30 residents from Station House care home were taken to the Kassam Stadium emergency centre in Oxford.

They were evacuated as a precaution, as were nine people from Signet Court care home. Also staying at the stadium were four families evacuated from Abingdon.

Just as the big mop-up got under way, there were fears the Ock's flow into the Thames would be held back because of the extra water in the Thames - causing more flooding.

But there was a huge sigh of relief when the "big surge" from the River Thames failed to materialise. The Environment Agency said water levels had stabilised.

A second surge was expected yesterday, but the agency predicted it would not be at the same levels as earlier in the week.

The River Thames spilled over into its natural flood plain, swamping fields. Flood stopped play at the cricket ground, and Abingdon Town football ground was several feet deep in water.

Nearby car parks were flooded.

Mike Cripps has run Red Line Outboard repairs and servicing business in Wilsham Road for 37 years and has seen many floods.

He said: "It's as bad as the 2000 flood, when even Culham Road was flooded.

"The river is very fast flowing and the sheer volume of water makes it dangerous for boats to set out."

Moored up for safety close to the repair shop was the 24ft cruiser of holidaymakers Peter and Lesley Williams, from Wraysbury, Middlesex.

Mr Williams said: "We've been boating for 15 years and have never known anything like this.

"We'll be moored here until the river subsides and it's safe to venture out on our journey home. The people living near here have been fantastic. One family said we could have a bath at their house."

Further along the river, on Nags Head Island, is the Abingdon Boat Centre run by Len Baker. He said: "The flood in the winter of 2003 was as bad, but such a flood of this magnitude has never occurred in the summer. Our day boat hire business has been devastated, although the poor weather before the floods had already depressed it."

On a visit to the flood-stricken areas, Abingdon MP Dr Evan Harris attacked Government spending cuts to the Environment Agency and called for more money and resources to provide new and improved defences.

He said: "We are seeing floods on a more frequent basis, so measures need to be in place to mitigate such floods as we have seen. The implications of failing to act are serious in terms of house prices and insurance costs."

The floods have brought into sharp focus the debate about building on flood plains. All the affected areas in Abingdon are in the Ock's flood plain.

The South Abingdon Floodplain Action Group has opposed Tesco's plan for a bigger store and Save Radley Lakes has warned of an increased flood risk if Thrupp Lake is filled with spent fuel ash from Didcot power station.