By ROB COOPER
A mid-summer monsoon caused flash flooding across the South today as a fortnight's worth of rain fell in just 30 minutes leaving homes, shops and roads underwater.
The force of the rainwater caused huge cracks to open up along main roads and lifted manhole covers clean off, leading to fountains of water gushing out.
At a beach in Bournemouth - which is normally crowded with holidaymakers at this time of the year - water was flooding off the road, along the beach and into the sea.
I don't like to be beside the seaside: A torrent of water swept onto the beach causing lifeguards to run for cover. If you have any pictures of the downpour, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
The town's pleasure gardens were turned into a lake after being flooded, with barely a blade of grass visible.
Meteorologists said 30mm of rain - just over an inch - fell in a few hours which is just over half of a month's rainfall.
Some areas had a months worth of rain in a morning - with over 60mm falling in Bournemouth between 6am and midday. 56mm of rain falls in Bournemouth in an average August.
An army of 100 firefighters worked to pump floodwater away after being inundated with more than 70 reports of flooding in a 30-minute spell.
A ceiling at the Bournemouth International Centre concert venue collapsed under the sheer weight of rain.
A three mile section of the A338 - the main road into the seaside town - was also closed after being swamped by 3ft of water, bringing travel chaos to thousands of motorists.
Flash flood: Bournemouth pleasure gardens were almost completely underwater after a fortnight's worth of rain fell in just half an hour
An August morning? With a darkened sky this car was forced to put its headlights on as it edged through Bournemouth this afternoon
Flashback: Sunseekers pack a beach in Broadstairs, Kent, two weeks ago as temperatures hit 29c
Kris Wingfield-Bennett, a 26-year-old technical consultant, said: 'It was absolutely surreal. The shops were all flooding and owners were putting down their shutters in a bid to keep the water out.
'There were loads of people grabbing any sort of shelter they could find, some were paddling in the water streaming down the streets.
'The central gardens were completely under water and huge cracks opened up in the main road in the town centre.
'I heard a loud crack but it was only when the water level started to drop I saw the crack was about 20ft long. It was chaos.'
Water floods out of a drain as the sewage system fails to cope with the sudden downpour in Bournemouth
Hospital appointments were cancelled at the Nuffield Health Bournemouth Hospital after rainwater flooded in through the ceiling.
'Flash flooding in the Bournemouth area has meant we have had to temporarily close the Nuffield Health Bournemouth Hospital to incoming patients,' a spokesman said.
'Staff are currently contacting all patients due to visit the Hospital today for both in and out-patient treatment, to inform them not to visit and to explain that all consultations and treatments have been suspended until further notice.'
A bus station is flooded in the centre of Bournemouth. A whole months worth of rain had fallen by early afternoon
A road is partially flooded in the seaside town after half an hour of heavy rain
Washout: Firefighters were called out 70 times in an hour as tourist attractions were drenched in rainfall
Going nowhere: Water laps up to the doors of a police car as it lies stranded in the rainwater
A spokesman for Dorset Fire and Rescue Service said: 'There were calls to commercial properties in the town centre, people stranded in their vehicles and buildings with water gushing in.
'Problems were reported at the Russell-Coates Museum, House of Fraser, Primark, Beales and many other shops in the town centre.
'Many people were stranded in water on the roads where police vehicles couldn't reach them, so we sent wading teams in to help.
'One car in Wimborne was seen to float away with an elderly couple inside and members of the public helped push it back onto land.'
Where's are the flowers? Bournemouth Pleasure Gardens today
No weather for shorts: A postman bravely cycles through the heavy rain
Wet wet wet: Water sweeps down from Boscombe Chine Gardens to the sea after 30mm of rain fell
Dr Richard Wild, from independent weather forecasters Weathernet said that the South had been hit by a huge downpour - but it will be sunny again by the weekend.
'We've had 30mm of rain this morning. The average rainfall for August in 56mm, so it is around half that in just one morning,' he said.
'Anything over 4mm of rain in an hour is considered 'heavy' so this was well beyond that level.
'The rain was forecast, caused by a warm front over the English Channel which is heading north-eastwards, but the amount was underestimated.
'The forecast for Friday and Saturday is sunny and dry but that might be of little consolation to people hit by flooding today.'