Florida mops up after floods close Fort Lauderdale airport


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – South Florida kept a wary eye on a forecast that called for more rain as it cleaned up Thursday from an unprecedented storm system that dumped upwards of 2 feet of rain in a matter of hours, causing widespread flooding, closing the Fort Lauderdale airport, and turning thoroughfares into rivers.

Fort Lauderdale issued a state of emergency as flooding persisted in parts of the city. Crews had worked through the night to attend rescue calls, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

Tow truck driver Keith Hickman told The Associated Press that he saw abandoned cars “floating like boats” in the streets of Fort Lauderdale.

“There were hundreds of cars up and down here,” he said. “It was unbelievable. I have never seen cars bumper boating each other and floating. And a truck would come by and the wake would push the cars into the other cars and they were just floating. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Amanda Valentine was driving when she received a warning about flash flooding on her phone.

“The water started rising, I thought I was going to drown,” Valentine told the AP, adding that she was terrified when she couldn’t open her car door or roll the windows down. “Nothing was working. All the lights were going on in my car, so nothing was operating. And I thought, I’m going to drown. I called my parents like, I’m going to die. Like I’m going to drown. There’s no way for me to get out of this car. And they couldn’t help me. I called 911 and they told me they couldn’t help me.”

She eventually forced the door open and got to safety.

In Broward County, where rains started Monday before the heaviest rains arrived Wednesday afternoon, crews worked Thursday to clear drains and fire up pumps to clear standing water.

The Red Cross set up a staging area to help residents whose homes were flooded, providing them with blankets and coffee, officials said. The staging area also acted as a reunification point for families.

Fort Lauderdale City Hall remained closed Thursday with ground-floor flooding and no power. A tunnel carrying U.S. Route 1 under a river and a major street in downtown Fort Lauderdale was also closed, along with some ramps to Interstate 95.

Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, which closed Wednesday evening, won’t reopen until 5 a.m. Friday due to debris and massive flooding.

By early Thursday, enough water had drained to allow people to drive on the upper level – or departures – road to pick up waiting passengers. But the entrance to the lower-level, or arrivals, road remained closed, officials tweeted.

Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the region received “an unprecedented amount” of rain. The weather service was still confirming totals, but some gauges showed up to 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) of rainfall

“For context, within a six hour period the amount that fell is about a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening within a given year. So, it’s a very historical type of event,” Bhatti said.

More showers, thunderstorms and local flooding were in the forecast from the National Weather Service on Thursday morning. An additional 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of rain was possible.

Video taken by witnesses showed water coming in the door at an airport terminal and a virtual river rushing down the tarmac between planes.

In downtown Fort Lauderdale, video showed a man swimming to the curb along Broward Boulevard as as cars rolled by. Drivers also recorded themselves rolling through streets where brown, swirling water rose nearly to car hoods.

Broward County schools canceled classes Thursday, including after-school and extracurricular activities, after water flooded hallways and classrooms at some schools the day before.

“The schools became inaccessible to parents, parents attempting to pick up their students,” Toni Barnes, Broward Schools director of emergency management, told WPLG-TV. “Staff members attempting to leave campuses – they were unable – they were trapped in their cars. We had to call fire rescue to assist our parents out of their cars to get them into the school because they were trapped.”

The heavy rains also shut down South Florida’s high-speed commuter rail service, called Brightline, for a brief time on Wednesday evening. Service has since been restored.

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Kozin and Frisaro both reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press reporter Kathy McCormack reported from Concord, New Hampshire.


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