New York suburbs get entire summer’s worth of rain

August 13, 2014

A record-setting rainstorm dumped more than a foot of water on parts of suburban New York in a matter of hours, turning highways into streams that stranded hundreds of drivers, flooded basements and caused at least one fatal crash.

“We’ve had another historic extreme weather event here,” Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, said at a news conference Wednesday outside the North Babylon firehouse, where dozens of stranded drivers were brought for shelter during the height of the storm.

The National Weather Service said a summer’s worth of rain fell within a few hours — more than 13 inches at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. That was more than the area’s normal total for June, July and August of 11.75 inches.

More than five inches fell in just one hour, from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesday, said Joe Pollina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He said the previous state record for rainfall over a 24-hour period was 11.6 inches near Tannersville during Tropical Storm Irene three years ago.

Bellone said most municipal sewer systems can handle about five inches of rain in 24 hours. “What happened today was unprecedented,” he said.

One person died when a sport-utility vehicle was hit by a tractor-trailer carrying waste oil on the Long Island Expressway near Dix Hills during the height of the storm, said Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke. He said it appeared that the SUV was driving slowly when it was hit by the larger vehicle. The person in the SUV who died was not immediately identified; Burke said the body was burned beyond recognition.

Volunteer firefighters in communities across Long Island used trucks and equipment ordinarily used to fight brush fires to rescue stranded drivers. The trucks stand high off the ground and can maneuver through several feet of water.

On the Southern State Parkway in North Babylon, firefighters encountered about 50 vehicles either stuck in the rising waters or pulled off to an elevated apron on the side of the highway.

“We had occupants climbing out of windows because they couldn’t open their doors,” said Lt. Timothy Harrington, the first firefighter at the scene. “Some of the water was over the vehicles’ roofs. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

No injuries were reported among the stranded drivers, officials said.

Some south shore Long Island communities slammed by Hurricane Sandy nearly two years ago were experiencing certain flashbacks as roads were closed and some homeowners were dealing with flooded basements.

The storm dumped varying amounts of rain as it passed over the Northeast.

New York City ranged from less than an inch in Central Park to more than three inches at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

But parts of New Jersey also received more than seven inches. Several homes were evacuated in Millville, N.J., because of flooding.

Baltimore received 6.3 inches, its highest rain total since 1933 and the second-highest since measurements were first taken in 1871.

In Rhode Island on Wednesday, manhole covers were swept off by water that filled the streets in Providence.

The same system dumped rain on Michigan earlier in the week. Portions of several Detroit-area freeways remained closed Wednesday morning as crews worked to remove mud, trash, abandoned vehicles and other debris.

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