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'I've never seen anything like that.' The reasons why Eta flooded South Florida so badly

By Alex Harris and Adriana Brasileiro, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

MIAMI — After wading through knee-high water to get from her Jeep to her newly rented apartment at Venetian Gardens in Hialeah on Monday, Evgeniya Ignatushchenko had a sinking feeling.

The residential complex's parking lot was flooded and surrounding streets looked like lakes and canals that evoked the watery Italian city of Venice, namesake of her complex. She took a deep breath and opened the door to the rental she hadn't even moved into yet.

"The floor was wet. I smelled mold. I could see that water had gotten inside because of the marks on the cardboard boxes I had left here," said Ignatushchenko, who sold her house in Miami Springs and rented the two-bedroom apartment to be closer to her mobile nail service clients.

"I've never seen anything like that," she said. "Last week the condominium association assured me it was impossible for water to get inside, but it did."

The bulk of Tropical Storm Eta's drenching rains fell overnight on Sunday, marking a dark slash of intense rainfall over northern Miami-Dade and southern Broward on the weather maps. The rain — more than 16 inches of it in some places — overflowed canals and retention ponds, turned roads into paddleboard territory and flooded a handful of neighborhoods, homes and apartments like Ignatushchenko's.

South Florida is no stranger to flooding, but Eta's floodwaters soaked neighborhoods that usually stay dry and set fresh and scary high water marks in some new areas. Why?

 

Experts say it's a combination of things. For one, the "dry season" that typically starts in mid-October has been anything but. The ground was already soaked before Eta left Cuba. For another, the couple feet of storm surge that came with Eta was enough to push up Biscayne Bay along the coast and slow water from draining out to sea like it normally does.

A third factor is climate change, and how it's straining the 72-year-old drainage system designed to keep South Florida dry. It's not clear yet how much of an effect rising seas played in Eta's floods, but everyone agrees it's going to play a role in the future.

Larger flood-control systems managed by the South Florida Water Management District, including dozens of canals, floodgates and pumps, worked as expected. A week ahead of the storm, the district started lowering canals to make room for what was expected to be extremely heavy rainfall, said district spokesman Randy Smith. South Florida's aging drainage system is destined to handle about six to eight inches of rain a day.

"Counties and cities were also working a week ahead of this storm to reduce the water in their canals, but we did get 14 to 18 inches of rain and that's enough to overwhelm some local systems," he said. "What we saw was that some flood control systems just weren't able to handle that volume."

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