South Florida is on alert for more rainfall after being hit by a severe storm that brought over 2 feet of rain in just a few hours. The unprecedented storm caused widespread flooding, shut down Fort Lauderdale airport, and turned streets into rivers. The city declared a state of emergency as flooding persisted in some areas.
Emergency crews worked through the night to respond to rescue calls, but fortunately, no injuries or deaths were reported. According to a tow truck driver, abandoned cars were floating in the streets, bumping into each other like boats, pushed around by the wake of passing trucks. The situation has left residents shocked and without precedent.
While driving, Amanda Valentine received a flash flood warning on her phone. As the water started to rise, she became frightened and struggled to open her car door or roll down the windows. She thought she was going to drown, and despite calling 911 and her parents, she received no help. Eventually, she managed to force the door open and escape.
Crews in Broward County, where rains started earlier in the week, worked to clear drains and pump out standing water. The Red Cross established a staging area to provide assistance to flooded residents, including blankets and coffee, and help reunite families.
Fort Lauderdale City Hall was closed on Thursday due to flooding and power outages. A tunnel carrying U.S. Route 1 in downtown Fort Lauderdale was also closed, along with some ramps to Interstate 95. Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, which closed on Wednesday, will not reopen until 5 a.m. Friday due to significant flooding and debris.
Disrupting Airport and Schools
While enough water had drained by early Thursday to allow people to drive on the upper level of the airport, the lower-level entrance remained closed. According to Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, the region received an “unprecedented” amount of rain, with up to 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) of rainfall recorded in some areas. This amount of rainfall is extremely rare, occurring with a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening within a given year. The National Weather Service is still confirming rainfall totals.
On Thursday morning, the National Weather Service predicted additional showers, thunderstorms, and local flooding, with the possibility of another 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of rain. Videos captured at Fort Lauderdale Airport showed water entering the terminal and flooding the tarmac between planes.
Downtown Fort Lauderdale footage showed a man swimming to the curb as cars drove by in brown, swirling water that nearly reached the hoods of some vehicles. Broward County schools canceled classes, including extracurricular activities, due to flooded hallways and classrooms.
According to Toni Barnes, Broward Schools director of emergency management, the flooding made schools inaccessible, preventing parents from picking up their children and trapping staff members in their cars. Fire rescue teams were called to help parents out of their vehicles and into the schools.