Residents in Tadcaster are being evacuated after a section of the town's historic bridge collapsed into the River Wharfe prompting warnings of a 'significant risk to life'. The river has swollen following days of torrential rain and flooding in North Yorkshire. Creaking noises were heard, and just before 5pm the stone side of the bridge fell away exposing broken pipes, sparking fears of both flooding and a gas explosion.

People watching the bridge collapse fled the scene after noticing a strong smell of gas from the pipes. Emergency services quickly arrived and soldiers were deployed to evacuate people and set up a cordon as homes were plunged into darkness as a power cut hit the part of Tadcaster east of the river. Homes either side of the bridge were evacuated, with bus and mountain rescue teams arriving to transport residents to a rest centre at Tadcaster Grammar School.

A severe flood warning has been issued for the town with an Environment Agency spokesman warning that 'significant flooding is expected in the Tadcaster area.' Locals were advised to leave immediately because of a "significant risk to life".

An Environment Agency spokesman said: "This severe flood warning has been issued due to the structural failure of Tadcaster Bridge over the River Wharfe in Tadcaster. Significant flooding is expected in the Tadcaster area. Those in this area are advised to evacuate immediately. The situation is serious and there is a significant risk to life. Please follow the advice of the emergency services and officials in the area."

Residents will still be able to cross into the other side of the town using the nearby A64 bridge Sky News reports. The bridge is in the middle of the town and has spanned the river for centuries. According to the Tadcaster town council website, the current structure was built around 1700.

Elland Bridge, between Huddersfield and Halifax in West Yorkshire, has also been closed after the carriageway crumbled and collapsed after the floods.

More than 6,700 homes have flooded in the past week with residents across York being evacuated on Boxing Day when the rivers Ouse and Foss breached their banks. And while many were trying to get back into their flooded homes to assess the damage, others found themselves victims of opportunistic looters who have stolen items left to dry outside properties.

West Yorkshire Police said: "We are being made aware of persons... removing items which are being left outside properties either for disposal or to dry out. In order to ensure the safety of empty properties in the area, additional police resources have been drafted in from other districts and areas. [And] several motorcycle clubs from the Bradford and surrounding areas have volunteered to patrol the area as extra eyes and ears on the ground."

The Cycle Factory of Todmorden, a recently-opened bicycle shop in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, was among the businesses to be targeted by looters.

In a Facebook post, a company spokesman said: "Struggling for words here we got flooded on Saturday as did a lot of people. Last night we were robbed by the scum of the earth praying on flood victims."

"Bad times when people take advantage of others' misery for profit," wrote Ana Maria Chiru on Facebook.

Commenting on the robberies, North Yorkshire Police's Acting Superintendent Mark Grange said: "It is extremely disappointing to see victims of the floods being targeted in this way. It is impossible to comprehend why anyone would want to bring further suffering to those who are already in a very vulnerable situation. Burglary will not be tolerated and those who commit this type of crime will face the full force of the law. I want to take this opportunity to remind residents to be vigilant and ensure property is as secure as it possibly can be.'

There appears to be no respite from the weather, with the Met Office reporting that Storm Frank would be in full force by tomorrow, with severe gales and downpours expected, with Cumbria and southern and central Scotland most at risk.

The Met Office has issued amber weather warnings with up to 1.5in (40mm) of persistent rain expected across Northern Ireland, west and south-west Scotland, Wales and north-west England

Will Lang, a chief meteorologist at the Met Office, said: "Everyone should be aware of the potential for disruption in places from further flooding and the impacts of the gales to transport."

Police Scotland also issued a warning to residents and motorists urging them to take extra care in the stormy conditions. Chief Inspector Andy McLean, local area commander, added: "From Tuesday evening people should only travel if absolutely necessary, particularly in the western half of the Borders.

"Road conditions are likely to become very difficult due to flooding and standing water, and there is a significant possibility that roads will need to be closed. Drivers should under no circumstances ignore road closed signs."

The local council has held an emergency meeting to plan for the severe weather and potential flooding.

While the extreme weather will bring further misery tomorrow and on Thursday, it is expected to clear just in time for New Year's Eve celebrations. Met Office spokesman Nicky Maxey said: "We're expecting the weather to be much more settled, with patches of sunshine in some areas alongside showers in other places. We're also expecting temperatures to dip to a much cooler temperature than we've seen of late. 'Rain showers expected in the next few days could fall as snow in areas over 400 metres. There could also be some frost overnight."