Florida cleans up after flooding strands cars, closes airport

Author: Freida Frisaro / AP
Published: Updated:
Airplanes sit on the runway due to flooding at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood airport Thursday, April 13, 2023 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Nearly a foot of rain fell in a matter of hours in Fort Lauderdale – causing widespread flooding, the closure of the city’s airport, all public schools and the suspension of high-speed commuter rail service. (Joe Cavaretta /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

South Florida kept a wary eye on a forecast that called for rain Thursday, a day after nearly a foot of it fell in a matter of hours, causing widespread flooding, closing the Fort Lauderdale airport, and turning thoroughfares into rivers.

Fort Lauderdale issued a state of emergency as flooding persisted in parts of the city. Emergency crews had worked through the night to attend rescue calls, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

Stranded cars littered streets around eastern Broward County, where rains started Monday, with the heaviest downpours coming Wednesday afternoon and evening. Crews worked to clear drains and fire up pumps to clear standing water. People were told to stay off roads until it drained.

The Red Cross arrived at 5 a.m. Thursday and set up a staging area to help residents whose homes were flooded, providing them with blankets and coffee, officials said. The staging area also acted as a reunification point for families.

Fort Lauderdale City Hall remained closed Thursday with ground-floor flooding and no power.

More showers, thunderstorms and local flooding were in the forecast from the National Weather Service on Thursday morning. An additional 2 to 4 inches of rain was possible on top of the 14 inches that fell in recent days.

Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport remained closed through at least noon Thursday, with many flights canceled and some passengers stranded. Roads around the airport flooded and became congested with stalled traffic.

By early Thursday, enough water had drained to allow people to drive on the upper level (departures) road to pick up waiting passengers. But the entrance to the lower level (arrivals) road remained closed, officials tweeted.

Video taken by witnesses showed water coming in the door at an airport terminal and a virtual river rushing down the tarmac between planes.

In downtown Fort Lauderdale, a video showed a man swimming to the curb along Broward Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon as cars rolled by. Drivers also recorded themselves rolling through streets where brown, swirling water rose nearly to car hoods.

Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy told CNN it was the worst flooding he’d experienced.

“The ground was already saturated so there is extensive flooding all over our city and throughout South Florida. Many roadways are impassable. Lots of vehicles got stuck and left abandoned in the middle of our roadways,” Levy said. “I’ve lived here my whole life. This is the most severe flooding that I’ve ever seen.”

Broward County schools canceled classes Thursday, including after-school and extracurricular activities.

“We had schools experiencing severe flooding,” Toni Barnes, Broward Schools director of emergency management, told WPLG-TV. “The water made its way into the hallways, into the classrooms. … The schools became inaccessible to parents, parents attempting to pick up their students. Staff members attempting to leave campuses — they were unable — they were trapped in their cars. We had to call fire rescue to assist our parents out of their cars to get them into the school because they were trapped.”

The heavy rains also shut down South Florida’s high-speed commuter rail service, called Brightline. It tweeted Wednesday evening that train service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale was suspended.

Associated Press reporter Kathy McCormack reported from Concord, New Hampshire.

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