TORRENTIAL downpours, thunder and lightning forced Chester Racecourse to abandon its family fun day on Sunday.

The freak storm, which saw 28.2mm of rain fall on the racecourse in just 20 minutes, called a premature halt to the race meeting. The average amount of rainfall usually seen for Chester in the whole of August is 38mm.

The ground around the finishing post resembled a lake and as the 36,000 racegoers dashed for shelter, the day’s events came to a close after three of the seven scheduled races.

Cheshire Constabulary chief inspector Alastair Hinze was on patrol for the day and said: “There was immediate concern about the public in their large numbers, all running for shelter into confined spaces and people getting crushed, so we were keen to contain the situation.”

Eight people received minor injuries, but chief inspector Damien Smethurst, who was in overall control of public safety on the day, praised the actions of all officers in preventing any serious casualties.

He said: “Not only did they face a difficult situation, in horrendous conditions, but they had a scenario which could have turned significantly more dangerous with forked lightning and severe downpours.

“These officers acted without consideration for their own personal safety and they are a credit to the constabulary.”

Elsewhere, emergency services were called into action to deal with numerous reports of flooding in city centre shops and pubs.

Some of the worst affected incidents included:

Customers had to be evacuated from Debenhams as flooding hit all floors of the store.

A blocked sewer pipe was the cause for about two inches of flooding from the lower ground floor, while rainwater seeping through the roof and outer walls affected the upper floors.

Store manager Kari Rodgers said: “There was no major damage caused and thankfully no-one was injured.

“The basement café is undergoing a safety check for all the equipment, apart from that it’s trading as usual.”

More than 100 boxes of the county’s archives were soaked in a basement strongroom underneath Chester Town Hall.

The documents, books and parchments relate mainly to the Chester diocese, University of Chester and ICI.

The damaged archives were sent to Harwell Science and Technology Park, in Oxfordshire on Tuesday to be freeze-dried by specialists.

Acting archives and local study manager Paul Newman said: “Fortunately our conservators are of the opinion that most, or all, of the badly affected records can be saved using the latest preservation techniques.”

St John’s Church in Vicar’s Lane was hit by the storm. Rector of the church, Father David Chesters OBE, said: “Water cascaded into the porch and through the rector’s side entrance, flooding part of the choir area and into the top of the nave.”

Sandbags were placed to minimise damage.

A loose manhole cover in Handbridge meant police had to shut the Old Dee Bridge for about an hour over safety concerns.

Firefighters had to remove feet of floodwater from the cellars of the Town Crier pub, the Westminster Hotel, the Queen Hotel the basement of Machine Mart. Tesco Express in Pepper Street shut while staff removed floodwater.

Rail services around Chester were also affected.