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'Life-threatening' flash flooding and heavy rain batter South Florida again

Lisa J. Huriash, Shira Moolten, Susannah Bryan and David Lyons, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — South Floridians were warned to stay indoors and off roads as heavy downpours struck the region Wednesday afternoon, bringing “life-threatening flooding” reminiscent of a devastating storm in April 2023.

Emergency responders in Broward were inundated with flood-related phone calls from stranded cars to downed power lines and water entering businesses and homes. The rain also led to delayed flights, and part of Interstate 95 was closed.

The National Weather Service issued a rare flash flood emergency due to “life-threatening flooding” as heavy rainfall continued to fall in already flooded areas. It was canceled about 8 p.m. Wednesday. The last time the same warning was issued was in April 2023.

“If you don’t have to travel, please don’t,” National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Garcia said.

The “impactful flooding” won’t be over so quick. Thursday “we’re still under threat,” Garcia said. “We might not be out of this heavy pattern for several days more.”

A flood watch is in effect for all of South Florida through Thursday evening. Periods of widespread showers and thunderstorms with heavy rainfall will lead to the potential for localized flash flooding, warned the National Weather Service.

From midnight to 6 p.m. Wednesday, between 10 to 15 inches rain inundated the areas of Hallandale Beach, Hollywood and Aventura, the weather service said. In Fort Lauderdale, between 8 and 10 inches of rain fell between midnight and 6 p.m. Wednesday. Several more inches of rain were possible overnight, the weather service said.

Radar shows “storm after storm,” conditions ripe for rain as a weather system continued to move across the state.

Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale Beach, Hollywood and Dania Beach declared states of emergency Wednesday evening, so they can receive resources, money and equipment from the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, as well as Collier, Lee and Sarasota counties on the west coast.

Cars stranded, flight delays

Cars were stuck in flooded roadways in parts of Broward County, including Hallandale Beach and in Hollywood.

Traffic on I-95 was being diverted at Oakland Park Boulevard, with drivers reentering the highway at Stirling Road.

Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue had responded to at least a dozen weather-related calls since the rain began to ramp up about 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, Battalion Chief Michael Kane said Wednesday afternoon. As he spoke, he continued to get alerts, mostly centered in the areas of Dania Beach and Hallandale Beach.

“They’re just pouring in,” Kane said.

As of 2:30 p.m., Kane said firefighters were in the middle of responding to calls about downed power lines, flooding coming through the air conditioning system at Crate & Barrel in Dania Beach, and flooding at a multifamily building.

The ground is so saturated with water from the previous days that more rain is quickly causing flooding, Kane said.

Several agencies reminded drivers not to call 911 if their cars are simply stranded but their lives are not in danger.

Meanwhile, flight delays at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport lasted for hours as multiple storm systems dramatically slowed air operations.

Although travelers were able to fly out of the airport, it took an average wait in some instances of a little more than 7 hours to do so, according to FAA time estimates.

But both of the airport’s runways remained operational and were handling flights Wednesday, said airport spokeswoman Arlene Satchell in an email Wednesday. She added that it was “not accurate” to conclude that runway flooding contributed to flight disruptions.

“The bad weather in our area has triggered a few FAA traffic management initiatives (ground stops, ground delays) for airports in South Florida today, primarily for FLL and (Miami International Airport,)” she said. “Our airport is currently in ground delay status for arrivals per the FAA. While there are some flooded areas on the airfield … both runways are operational and handling flight activity.”

At the Fort Lauderdale airport there were 70 flight delays and 144 cancellations, airport officials confirmed as of midafternoon, although not all were directly related to the weather. Satchell said at the time that the numbers were expected to climb.

Miami International Airport had 365 delays and 175 cancellations and lengthy departure delays of up to three hours. Inbound flights were delayed at their originating airports by an average of 4 hours and 59 minutes.

Palm Beach International Airport had 47 delays and 35 cancellations. There was no immediate information on the length of delays.

South Florida’s passenger rail services were also disrupted in Miami-Dade County as storm waters covered a portion of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between Aventura and Miami used by the high-speed Brightline service.

Passengers reported being transported by bus after southbound trains stopped at the Aventura station just south of the Broward-Miami-Dade county line.

Brightline spokesman Ben Porrit said by email late Wednesday afternoon that maintenance crews were “working on this now.”

 

He said it was “likely that we will suspend service between Aventura and Miami but run the rest of the system as normal.”

The disruption had a ripple effect on Tri-Rail’s new cross-county service between its corridor west of I-95 and the Miami-Central station downtown. Spokesman Victor Garcia said Tri-Rail passengers were being advised to transfer to the Metro-Rail system to reach downtown Wednesday evening.

He said flooded roads around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport caused delays of Tri-Rail shuttle buses between the rail line’s Griffin Road station and airport terminals.

Other than those episodes, Tri-Rail trains continued to run between its northernmost station at Mangonia Park in Palm Beach County through Broward and into Miami International Airport, he said.

‘Here it is again’

For residents still recovering from the devastating April floods, Wednesday’s rain came as a surprise and an unpleasant reminder of what they endured just over a year ago.

Bob Thomas, 67, runs a halfway house near the Edgewood neighborhood that got hit particularly hard in that storm. The water was already at his front gate Wednesday afternoon, about 6 feet from the building, and creeping up.

“It brings back memories, that’s for sure,” he said when asked about how it felt compared to the April flooding.

Then, the downpour filled the house with three feet of water. It took Thomas five months to repair the damage the flooding left and he still isn’t entirely done. Everyone in the home had to evacuate. Now, he wonders when he should tell them it’s time to put their belongings up high and even evacuate again.

“If it continues for six more hours, we’ll be underwater,” he said.

Joe Martinez, 34, lost his car in last year’s storm. On Wednesday, he chose to park at a McDonald’s and walk the rest of the way with a 12-pack, wading through waist-deep water.

By late afternoon, it was already impossible to get into his neighborhood in the Riverland area of Fort Lauderdale, one of the areas that was hit hardest last year.

“I got within two inches of having water in my door last year,” Martinez said, anxious because the rain has shown no sign of letting up. The canals are already overflowing, and “the water doesn’t have anywhere to go.”

Martinez had never seen anything like last year’s April flood, what he thought was a once in a thousand year event, and now it appears to have happened a second time. He had no good explanation.

Ted Inserra, president of the River Oaks Civic Association, urged the city to send in more temporary pumps to help prevent flooding.

“Water approaching front doors, messaged everyone, on hold from the 828-8000 number, in the 900 block of 19th street, we just got our power back on,” Inserra said. “We knew this was coming!!”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said “an army of pump trucks” were in place throughout the city to help prevent flooding. “The problem is they don’t have any place to dump the water,” he said. “So they have to hold it.”

After driving through River Oaks and nearby Citrus Isles neighborhoods, Trantalis was stunned by all the flooded streets.

“River Oaks is heavily flooded,” he said. “Cars are still passing, but most streets have at least 6 to 8 inches of water. Some homes are seeing water intrusion. Citrus Isles is heavily flooded with intrusion into many, many homes.”

Hollywood offered residents free parking in downtown garages until 8 p.m. Friday. Hopefully they won’t need to extend it beyond that, Hussey said, adding that the situation is similar to April so far.

“I’m anticipating the worst and I’m hoping for the best that that is not the case, but right now the amount of rain is very similar to what we saw for that April storm,” she said.

Many described the flooding back in April as a rare, catastrophic event, but Wednesday’s rain has left some reconsidering.

“Last year they called that the storm of the century,” Thomas said. “Now here it is again and I’m sitting here looking at the radar and I don’t really see an end to it.”

Fort Lauderdale canceled all board meetings scheduled for Wednesday night. All Parks and Recreation programming was also canceled.

Other events in the county also were being canceled, including Wednesday night’s Cricket Watch Party for West Indies v. New Zealand, an event tied to the cricket World Cup at Central Broward Park in Lauderhill. Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach canceled horse racing on Thursday. A performance at the Broward Center for Performing Arts was canceled. Broward College and Nova Southeastern University canceled Wednesday night classes.

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©2024 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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