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updated: 8/14/2014 10:52 AM

Communities across U.S. recover after floods

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  • From left, Joe Pawlica, 80, of Warren, helps his son City councilman Greg Pawlica, 46, of Ferndale, go through his soaked album collection with neighbor Wanda Korgol, 41 of Ferndale, after water rose over a foot in his basement.

      From left, Joe Pawlica, 80, of Warren, helps his son City councilman Greg Pawlica, 46, of Ferndale, go through his soaked album collection with neighbor Wanda Korgol, 41 of Ferndale, after water rose over a foot in his basement.
    Associated Press

 
By FRANK ELTMAN
Associated Press

NORTH BABYLON, N.Y. -- Communities across the U.S. are drying out after unusually heavy rains swamped highways, flooded basements and were blamed for at least four deaths.

Long Island residents were urged to remain off the road Wednesday as a round-the-clock recovery continued after a record 13.26 inches of rain fell between midnight and 9:30 a.m.

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder issued a disaster declaration for the Detroit area after rain sent mud cascading down embankments, closing stretches of freeways all of Tuesday and part of Wednesday.

Officials at a Nebraska hospital said Wednesday its public cafeteria could stay shuttered for months after it was inundated by floodwater over the weekend.

The latest iteration of wild weather hit the northeast Tuesday night and lingered through Wednesday. A slow-moving system, powered by tropical moisture and clouds soaring far higher than in usual summer storms, lashed communities from Maryland to New England.

The hardest hit areas, Long Island's Suffolk County and the towns of Islip and Brookhaven there, declared states of emergency after what County Executive Steve Bellone called an "unprecedented" deluge.

"It's not just how much rain fell, it's how fast it fell," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jack Boston said, calling the storm a once every 50 years event. "We're talking about billions and billions of gallons of water and it all has to go somewhere."

Parts of the heavily traveled Montauk Highway on Long Island's South Shore were undermined and buckled. Service on a branch of the Long Island Rail Road was suspended as crews repaired track beds washed out by the storm.

The storm formed Tuesday south of Baltimore, according to Accuweather's Boston, and hit that city with its highest rainfall total in 81 years. Roads were flooded, forcing several water rescues, and a sinkhole formed on an Anne Arundel County street.

From there it swept across New Jersey -- following a track similar to a typical winter storm -- and dumped nearly 9 inches of rain in Millville, where a woman suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung when the walls of her basement collapsed due to flooding.

Rain fell at a rate of up to 2 inches per hour in Rhode Island, stalling cars and sweeping manhole covers away.

Volunteer firefighters on Long Island used trucks that stand high off the ground and that normally are used for brush fires to rescue stranded drivers.

Officials said a man died when a tractor-trailer hit his slow-moving SUV at the height of the storm on the Long Island Expressway.

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 on the scene. "Some of the water was over the vehicles' roofs. I've never seen anything like this before."

The storm's effects still were being felt Thursday morning in Maine. More than 7,000 customers were without power around daybreak.

In Portland, where the National Weather Service said more than 6 inches of rain fell, police urged motorists to stay off the streets because drivers were getting stuck in high water. And in the City of South Portland, police handled more than 60 flooding-related calls and had to rescue several people from stranded vehicles.

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