(NEW YORK) — More than two feet of rain brought Fort Lauderdale to a halt on Wednesday, shutting down the city’s airport, stranding drivers on flooded streets, suspending rail services and inundating emergency responders.
Drivers caught in flood waters overwhelmed the Broward County Sheriff’s Office with 911 calls. The office advised stranded residents not to call their office, suggesting instead to “call a tow truck company.”
The flash flooding and persistent rainfall came as a surprise to many locals despite the state historically being accustomed to daily torrents of rain and strong winds from hurricanes.
“It was like someone turned the faucet on over Fort Lauderdale and just walked away,” resident James Gianey said.
The city was submerged under 25.91 inches of rain in less than 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service’s preliminary report.
Fort Lauderdale is now under a local state of emergency after Mayor Dean J. Trantalis signed a proclamation Wednesday evening.
The heavy and concentrated rain prompted Broward County public schools to shut down on Thursday. The weather also prompted Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to suspend flights. Ground transportation entrances and exits became “impassable” due to flooding.
The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport will remain closed until 5 a.m. Friday.
Stephanie Spiegel was stranded at the Fort Lauderdale airport for over 12 hours due to the weather.
She described rain of “biblical proportions.” Her plane waited on the tarmac for three hours before passengers were told to deplane.
“I am absolutely stranded at Fort Lauderdale International Airport with a whole bunch of probably thousands of other people,” she said.
Her flight to New York was canceled and the likelihood of catching a connecting flight to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a hiking trip looked dim.
“I’ve tried to have family come pick me up but all the roads are blocked from the airport in and out,” she said. “People have been trying to scurry around and no one’s able to get out.”
Gianey’s home flooded on Wednesday, forcing him and his three dogs to search for a safe and dry location to sleep.
Accustomed to the hurricanes that typically impact his home, Gianey said the torrential rain took him by surprise, likely damaging parts of his home. He described evacuating and navigating treacherous roads, and the floodwaters reached his Toyota 4Runner’s hood.
“The water was more like a flash flood … it was coming in from everywhere,” he said. “And I didn’t have time to grab any kind of anything out of the house. I grabbed the three dogs when I ran outside with them.”
He eventually found dry ground at a McDonald’s parking lot, where he could walk his dogs Ryan, Chloe and Molly as well as feed them some McNuggets. Worried about hitting more floodwaters in search of a hotel, they all slept in Gianey’s SUV overnight.
“This was way worse than a hurricane,” he said. “This is way more scary and terrifying than any hurricane I’ve been through down here.”
Real estate agent Tara Carter’s 20-minute drive to the office turned into a two-hour fiasco when floodwaters rose and trapped multiple cars. She equated the experience to “driving in a tidal wave.”
“I decided to drive home and it was a horrendous drive … I’ve never seen so many cars pulled over ever,” she said.
She eventually opted to stay at a local hotel rather than face the risk of driving in dangerous conditions.
“There was a choice to either get to higher ground, sleep in my car or find a hotel. I ended up getting the last room at the hotel,” she said.
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