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'Nightmare' of rain, flooding in Northeast

Torrential downpours inundated the Northeast on Friday, forcing evacuations, toppling trees, cutting power to thousands and causing a sixth death.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Torrential downpours from a faded tropical storm inundated the Northeast on Friday, forcing evacuations, toppling trees, cutting power to thousands and washing out roads during a snarled morning commute. Water pooled so deeply in a Philadelphia suburb that a car literally floated on top of another car.

Heavy rains whipped Boston for hours Friday afternoon while other parts of the Northeast dried out after being hit hard overnight. The storm was blamed for five deaths in North Carolina on Thursday and a sixth in Pennsylvania on Friday — a woman who apparently drove her car into a rain-swollen creek before daybreak.

Flights coming into New York City and New Jersey were delayed for up to three hours, and traffic coming into Manhattan was delayed by up to an hour under a pounding rain.

Firefighters in the Philadelphia area used a ladder truck to pull residents through the upper-floor windows of a building. Cars were submerged up to their windows, and a graphic artist found another vehicle floating atop his car.

"I'm a little frustrated, but what can you do? This is just nature," said the artist, 33-year-old Ismail Dibona.

Rainfall totals in the Philadelphia area topped 10 inches. Parts of upstate New York had unofficial totals of more than 6 inches of rain and New York City's Central Park recorded 3.08 inches.

"My drive to work was a nightmare today," said Paul Schatz, a paralegal in New York's Long Island. "On the way I saw a huge flood and two cars in the flood. All I could see of the two cars were the roofs. So it was really a nightmare. Every road I took was closed."

More than 50,000 power outages were reported in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and the New York City suburbs during the brunt of the storm Friday morning, but many customers had power restored by the afternoon as the deluge reduced to a drizzle.

The storm hit the Berkshires in western Massachusetts hard Friday morning but without the high winds that could have stripped trees of leaves during fall foliage season, said Lauri Klefos, the president of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau in Adams.

"We have all kinds of festivals and outdoor activities in the region this weekend, so if it had to happen, I am happy it happened on a Thursday and Friday," she said.

A mudslide in neighboring New Hampshire resulted in a road closure.

The massive rainstorm drove up the Eastern Seaboard from the Carolinas to Maine on Thursday, the worst of it falling in North Carolina where Jacksonville took on 12 inches in six hours — nearly a quarter of its typical annual rainfall.

The governor of North Carolina declared a state of emergency, with officials there warning that creeks and rivers would continue to rise even after the storm passed.

Flood warnings were in effect for parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.

The deluge that started on Wednesday set records in several areas, said Dan Peterson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"Multiple rainfall records have been set for parts of New York, eastern Pennsylvania and North Carolina," he said.

The highest total was in Newport, North Carolina, with a multi-day total of 19 to 21.5 inches of rain, he said.

Rescue crews used boats and hovercraft to reach people stranded in homes and cars that were surrounded by fast-moving flood waters.

Travelers at Boston Logan International Airport faced delays that were in part due to back-ups earlier in the day caused by heavier rains to the south, Judge said.

Flights were also delayed at John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports in the New York metropolitan region.

A period of cool weather was expected to follow the storm, the National Weather Service said.

Four people, including two children, were killed when their SUV skidded off a highway about 145 miles east of Raleigh and plunged into a water-filled ditch, North Carolina troopers said. A fifth victim likely drowned when his pickup veered off the road and into a river that was raging because of the rain.

Meteorologist Tim Armstrong with the National Weather Service in Wilmington declared the 22.54 inches to be the rainiest five-day period there that he could find on record since 1871. It easily beat Hurricane Floyd's 19.06 inches in 1999.


Soaked coast

Roads were cut off, trees downed, motorists rescued and flights delayed due to the severe weather along the East Coast.

"We've measured the last drop of rain in our bucket for this event," Armstrong said. "I went through Floyd also and I thought I knew what rain was. Then I went through this."

He marveled at how a wet week changed everything: "We were praying for rain and we slipped into a moderate drought last week. It all turned around in a hurry."

Forecasts said a large high pressure system over Canada was expected to push the storm further offshore and likely spare New England the kind of extreme rainfall that flooded roads and homes.

The rain was part of a system moving ahead of the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, which dissipated over the Straits of Florida on Wednesday.

But the rain caused several other wrecks Thursday, including a crash between two transit buses in Maryland that left 26 people injured. Standing waters and fallen limbs on tracks slowed several Amtrak trains, while some Northeast airports reported flight delays of up to three hours. Parts of Virginia had 7 inches.

Forecasts called for cooler, drier air in many areas once the storm passed.

The flooding might have been worse if not for a dry spell across much of the Northeast. New Jersey State climatologist Dave Robinson says the low water levels on rivers and streams because of the drought saved that state from serious flooding.

"The saving grace was that we were dry and the rivers were low before this," he said. "If that had not been the case, we would be looking at historic flooding on the Delaware right now."

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