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Floating cars, closed highways, flooded homes. 'Insane' rainfall deluges South Florida

Alex Harris, Ashley Miznazi and Claire Grunewald, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

An early June deluge has once again turned South Florida’s roads and parks into rivers and lakes, snarling traffic, stalling cars and sending residents sloshing through streets, shoes in hand. And it’s not done yet.

By Wednesday afternoon, the flooding had grown so severe that authorities closed parts of southbound Interstate 95 in Broward near the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport, an area that was walloped by intense rain later in the day. Hundreds of flights were delayed there and at Miami International Airport.

Roads and intersections were rendered impassable in Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, Hollywood, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and across South Florida. Flash flood warnings blinkered on and off all afternoon, and social media video showed floodwater so deep in Hallandale Beach that cars were floating.

One of the many stranded drivers was Mike Viesel, who was caught on his way home in Hollywood in several feet of floodwater. As he slowed, and stopped, other cars surged past him, sending even more water into his car — up to his calves. Then the engine wouldn’t start.

Viesel and his dog, Humi, were stuck inside his tan Lincoln Continental waiting for a tow on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’d walk out of my car, but (Humi) has a problem with water,” he said.

While authorities reported no major failures in county-wide drainage protections, the continued downpours on Wednesday quickly overwhelmed the weak spots in the system — neighborhoods, streets and even homes that routinely flood during heavy rainstorms.

Alfredo Rodriguez moved into St. Edward’s Apartments in the Edgewater neighborhood of Miami a year ago, and he said it’s flooded five times since he got here. The lobby of his building had a half inch of water puddled inside on Wednesday morning, during a brief respite from the rain.

“It was a surprise to me. I want to leave this place in the next three months. This is horrible. I can’t pull my car around,” he said.

Outside, a city of Miami employee manned a loud, sputtering piece of machinery designed for these situations, a temporary stormwater pump. The employee noted the pump was “doing its job,” yet cars on the bay front street sat in water up to their front bumper.

Miami deployed 12 of its 14 temporary pumps for this flood event, including the one on Rodriguez’ street, in addition to the city’s 13 permanent pump stations. Miami also sicced a squad of ten roving vactor trucks — large trucks that suck up excess water on the street — on the flooding hot spots.

Miami saw about 4 to 6 inches of rain on Tuesday alone, according to preliminary results from the Miami office of the National Weather Service. Miami Beach saw even more, at nearly 7 inches.

In response, the city deployed six temporary pumps in flood-prone spots, in addition to Miami Beach’s 48 permanent pump stations. Seven vactor trucks are roaming the city, hunting for any flooding issues.

“In anticipation of the rainfall, the stormwater team cleaned the entire storm drain system earlier this week, including pump stations. Additional resources are available around the clock for the next several days,” said Miami Beach spokesperson Melissa Berthier in a statement.

By late afternoon Wednesday, Miami Beach streets were under several feet of water. Motorcycles were nearly wholly underwater on some streets, and parts of Collins Avenue were knee-deep in floodwater.

Victor Corone, 66, forded nearly two feet of floodwater while pushing his wife, 64-year-old Maria Diaz, in a wheelchair. Maria had a doctor’s appointment earlier in the day, and the couple had to ditch their car in a parking lot to make it home.

Corone pushed her through the floodwater for more than a mile before they arrived, safely, at home.

“It was a long way,” he said.

Broken records in Broward

The scene was similar in Broward, with around 6 inches in Hallandale Beach and 5 inches in Hollywood. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport set a new record for June 11 at 3.3 inches in a single day, beating a record of 3.1 inches in 1997. Along U.S. 1 in Fort Lauderdale, cars crept through rising waters, sending wakes that covered sidewalks.

Broward Sheriff Office Battalion Chief Michael Kane said Wednesday afternoon calls for rescues from the high water started coming in around 11:30 a.m. By early evening, about 50 people were rescued from flooded cars. No injuries or structural damage have been reported so far, he said.

“I think we hit the peak at about 2 p.m., but that remains to be seen,” Kane said. “We’ve been able to keep up with the high volume of requests for victim removals from the high water.”

 

In Hollywood, some streets began to fill up with abandoned or stalled cars as floodwater rose in the early afternoon under a fresh outburst of heavy rain.

Laura Collinhofer said she and her neighbors had to move their cars to save them from the floodwaters. “It’s insane,” she said.

A few blocks away, despite more than a foot of water on the streets, a FedEx delivery driver continued to make his deliveries. Rico Torres, 33, said he’s experienced conditions like this many times before.

“No matter what, unless it’s a Category 3 hurricane, we are out here every day,” he said. “This is Hollywood for you.”

And it wasn’t just coastal spots flooding. The Holiday Acres mobile home park in Hialeah had nearly two feet of accumulated floodwater by Wednesday afternoon.

Davie Moreno, who moved into the park a few months ago, said he decided to walk the 18 minutes to work in this weather, rather than chance losing his car. He carried his uniform in a backpack wrapped in plastic.

“I’d prefer to leave the car than take it out in this,” he said.

More to come

Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist at the NWS’s Miami office, said Miami-Dade is expected to see another 5 to 7 inches of rain through Saturday morning, and Broward could see 4 to 6.5 inches.

While it’s unclear where, exactly, the brunt of that rain may fall, it could be a double whammy of water to places like Brickell, Downtown Miami and Miami Beach, which were hit the hardest in the first round of rain on Tuesday.

“They’re going to be pretty sensitive to more flooding in the next few days,” Bhatti said.

That additional rain total could strain drainage efforts in South Florida even further, but as of Wednesday afternoon, authorities said the rain was still manageable.

The South Florida Water Management District, the main government agency in charge of flood control, said it worked before the storm to lower canals and test its pumps and gates to make sure they were ready. So far, no problems have been reported, said District Spokesperson Jason Schultz.

The district has used some of the pumps in its system to move water closer to the coast, but so far it hasn’t needed to store water in the C-4 Emergency Detention Basin, a 900-acre space officials can use to hold extra water to prevent flooding.

“The District’s regional flood control system is working as rainfall continues with no reports of problems,” Schultz said in a statement.

If a few more inches of rain fall over the next few days, it could be an event that rivals other recent widespread flooding in South Florida.

In 2022, a soggy system that would later become Tropical Storm Alex passed over South Florida and dropped 15 inches of rain in just a few days. Hundreds of cars were stalled out in the floodwaters, and more than a hundred people called Miami-Dade’s 311 line with flood complaints.

This time, the conditions are similar. The National Hurricane Center is tracking a disturbance that’s crossing the state, dumping a veritable rain train of water. The hurricane center gives it a low chance of strengthening into a tropical depression — just 20% — by the time it emerges on the east coast.

But, for now, South Florida’s rainfall isn’t classified as a tropical system. It’s “just” rain, except at levels usually only seen with tropical storms or hurricanes.

“It is fairly unusual, especially to see this wide of a swath over the region, Bhatti said.

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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