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'It needs to stop': Another night of rain could tip South Florida neighborhoods over the edge

Alex Harris, Claire Grunewald, Douglas Hanks and Raisa Habersham, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

MIAMI — This week’s deluge — more than 20 inches in some spots — overwhelmed drainage systems across South Florida, clogging roads with feet of water and hundreds of stalled cars.

The state and multiple cities declared a state of emergency as floodwater poured into homes and businesses, stopped traffic on Interstate 95 and froze travel from both major airports. By midday Thursday, normal activities had mostly resumed and some spots had dried up, despite seeing more than a foot of rain this week.

But with another 4 to 8 inches of rain projected Thursday evening, and up to 10 inches in some spots, officials warned residents not to let their guard down. With the ground now soggy with millions of gallons of rain, it won’t take much to set off a fresh round of flash flooding.

“Don’t be deceived by the sun peeking out from the clouds,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference Thursday in the county’s emergency operations center in Doral. “We’ve seen clear skies this morning, but we are expecting heavy rainfall once again today.”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis echoed that message in an afternoon press conference, where he warned that the city could see another up to 10 inches of rain overnight, “which could turn into a disaster very quickly.”

“It is very, very important — I want to stress this — for everyone to stay off the roads,” he said. “The roads need to be open for emergency vehicles to get to emergency situations.”

Trantalis also addressed concerns from residents asking the city to deploy one of its 22 temporary pumps or 15 vactor trucks, used to suck up excess water, to their neighborhoods. He said the city was doing everything it could to contain the water Wednesday night, but at a certain point, the rain was overwhelming.

“To be able to pump water out, we need to put it somewhere,” he said. “We had no place to pump the water. The canals were full.”

The South Florida Water Management District, the main agency in charge of keeping the region dry, has a system that is designed to handle about 6 to 8 inches of rain per day. Most spots in South Florida stayed below that level, but places like Fort Lauderdale did not.

In response, the district set up five temporary pumps, one in Miami Beach and four near the Miami River by the Miami International Airport. It’s also storing extra water inside the C-4 drainage basin, a 900-acre “just in case” space used for massive floods.

Fort Lauderdale’s drainage system, which works alongside the district’s pumps and canals, is designed to handle about 3 inches of rain in a day — or up to 7 inches in some of the newly redesigned spots.

What happened Wednesday, and what’s expected Thursday night, is quite a bit higher than that.

“This level of water may outpace what our stormwater system is capable of handling,” Trantalis said.

Swamped roads and homes

The brief reprieve from the rainfall Thursday morning revealed the worst of the damage appeared to be concentrated in Hallandale Beach and Hollywood, which saw more than 19 inches of rain between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Broward Sheriff’s Office Battalion Chief Michael B. Kane said his department received 174 calls for help from Hallandale Beach alone Wednesday evening, leading to 26 high-water rescues — some by boat.

“We were very fortunate. The area of high-density calls was in a very concentrated area. We were able to keep up with all the calls,” he said.

With a potential repeat event on the way Thursday evening, Kane warned drivers to stay off the road unless it’s an emergency.

“I couldn’t tell you how many roads we couldn’t traverse because of all the stranded vehicles,” he said.

On Thursday afternoon, Peter Jelonk, 62, his wife, Patricia, 58, said this week brought the worst rain he and his wife have seen in the 24 years they’ve called Hallandale Beach home.

“When it’s heavy rain, it gets like this. It’s a bad intersection,” Jelonk said. “Trucks could (only) drive through it in a single-file line.”

Passing cars sent a wake toward the Jelonks’ house, visible in a high-water line of mud on the side of their home. Water had reached the sill of the doorway, but it was kept at bay by a towel against the doorframe.

Their neighbor, 55-year-old Alim Sharif, wasn’t so lucky. After 3 inches of rain entered Sharif’s home Wednesday, he and his family spent Thursday morning cleaning up the aftermath and were without internet.

Sharif and his family have lived in the home for 10 years. After three nasty floods at his house, mostly in his daughter’s room, he’s selling it.

“This is the end of it. I’m moving,” he said.

While the rainfall still wasn’t anywhere near levels seen in the April flood event in Fort Lauderdale last year, some scattered homes still saw floodwaters breach the front door.

At Sam Demarco’s house in Hollywood, water seeped under his front door, and passing cars sent wakes that pushed the water even further inside.

“We were kind of ambushed today,” he said Wednesday evening.

At that time, Demarco’s front yard was knee-deep in water. He had a pile of towels in the hallway to his bedroom to make sure the floodwater in his living room didn’t reach it.

 

Demarco’s home was flooded in April 2023, destroying all of the furniture at the front of his house. Since then, he’s moved most of his furniture to the back of the home to prepare for weather like this week’s.

“I’m not giving up paradise for a little bad weather,” Demarco said.

Remnants of Wednesday’s storms remained at the Royal Palm Mobile Home Park in Hallandale Beach as residents worked to clean out their homes Thursday morning.

Manuel Sarmiento, 78, and Sara Vilchez, 63, were hauling a wet mattress from Vilchez’s home after water entered her place and damaged her wood flooring. The flooding stopped just short of her kitchen and dining area.

“Now, I’m going to be bedless. I have to throw everything out because it’s humid,” she said in Spanish.

Inside her home, Vilchez’s clothes and other belongings were atop her bed as she worked to clean what she could.

“I didn’t think it’d be like this,” she said.

In her 20 years living there, Vilchez said the only other time the flooding was this bad was four years ago.

“I don’t have anything left,” she said as her dog, a Pomeranian named Pierro, barked in the background.

Meanwhile, a few blocks over, Sarmiento’s sister Guil Cardenas, 75, was stuck in her home after water gushed onto her front porch and cracked her stairs. Inside her home, a brand new water heater is broken, and she was down to 14 bottles of water. Newspapers were strewn about to create traction on the floor to help avoid slipping and falling.

When asked if anyone had been by to help, she said: “Nobody, nobody, nobody.”

Stranded cars everywhere

In Miami-Dade, the bulk of the rain was dumped in North Miami — which saw more than 20 inches of rain over the last two days — and in Miami Beach, where nearly 14 inches accumulated.

That prompted about three dozen rescue calls from people trapped in homes or businesses by rising floodwaters, officials said.

Of those, most were in vehicles and a few were in businesses isolated by flooded streets, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Ray Jadallah said. Levine Cava also said some rescues were conducted in homes left isolated by floodwaters.

Jadallah said the department used converted military vehicles with wheels 6 feet off the ground to ferry people to higher ground during the rescues and that the crews were deployed in Northeast Dade again Thursday.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is vehicles that try to leave — they try to enter a congested area. Water sits just a couple of feet high and then next thing you know, water gets into the engine and kills it,” he said.

As of Thursday morning, State Farm reported more than 300 vehicular flood claims from South Florida so far, said spokesman Michal Brower.

“Majority of the auto claims are for flood damage, and number of claims reported could be expected to increase as rain is projected to continue today and tomorrow and additional drivers discover flood damage to vehicles,” he wrote in a statement.

The flooding was so bad Wednesday evening that AAA suspended service overnight, although it had resumed operations in all but the most flood-prone places by mid-Thursday.

With flooded streets and driveways an ongoing concern, Miami-Dade County on Thursday opened its Metrorail garages for free parking for people wanting to get their vehicles to higher ground. The seven garages from Brownsville to South Miami will be open through noon on Friday, the Department of Transportation and Public Works said Thursday afternoon.

While some of the hard-hit spots in Miami-Dade had dried up by midday Thursday, others without the benefit of dry ground, the sun or temporary pumps were still underwater.

In Allapattah, resident Marvin Morales took matters into his own hands with a personal flood pump, which he used to drain floodwater from his backyard. That isn’t the only measure he’s taken to fight flooding. He built a concrete wall around his back porch two years ago, because before that water would flood and reach his windows. The wall saved his home from damage this year.

In North Miami, Robert Lee’s home was luckily high enough to escape the floods. But it was ringed with a moat that soaked his entire front yard and invaded the 52-year-old’s garage, ruining his tools and paint.

“There is nowhere to go 'cause we are so close to the ocean,” Lee said.

There is no temporary pump near Lee’s home, and the flooding hadn’t died down Thursday. Lee said he hadn’t seen anyone from the city checking on his neighborhood and said he had called several times about the flooding, to no avail. Lee said this is the second time he has experienced a flood like this, but he thinks this time it was worse.

“This rain is giving no justice. It needs to stop,” Lee said.


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

 

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