NATIONAL NEWS

Airport looks to open as South Florida floods slowly recede

Apr 14, 2023, 6:10 AM

In this photo taken with a drone, trucks and a resident on foot make their way through receding flo...

In this photo taken with a drone, trucks and a resident on foot make their way through receding floodwaters in the Sailboat Bend neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Thursday, April 13, 2023. Over 25 inches of rain fell in South Florida since Monday, causing widespread flooding. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Drivers were urged to use caution when navigating the streets of Fort Lauderdale on Friday after days of unrelenting rain left roads underwater and forced the closure of one of South Florida’s largest airports.

A flood warning was expiring, but the National Weather Service warned motorists that water-covered roads could still be a hazard. Meanwhile, officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport planned final inspections to assess the readiness of the airfields even as Friday’s forecast called for a few showers and possible storms.

The airport shut down Wednesday evening as a storm dumped more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain, stranding passengers and resulting in canceled flights.

“Nature has been unkind to us,” Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher said during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the airport. He, along with airport officials, advised travelers to check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

All across Fort Lauderdale, residents and business owners were cleaning up. While it started raining on Monday in South Florida, much of the water fell Wednesday, and the Fort Lauderdale area saw record rainfall amounts on a matter of hours, ranging from 15 inches (38 centimeters) to 26 inches (66 centimeters).

On Thursday, residents in the city’s Edgewood neighborhood waded through knee-high water or used canoes and kayaks to navigate the streets. Dennis Vasquez, a window screen installer, towed some of his neighbor’s belongings on an inflatable mattress to a car on dry land. He himself lost all of his possessions when water rose chest-high in his house Wednesday night.

“Everything, it’s gone,” he said in Spanish. “But I will replace it.”

Christopher Alfonso and Tony Mandico, neighbors for 50 years in Edgewood, said their homes are likely total losses.

They said the area never severely flooded until a sanitary sewer system replaced septic tanks 10 years ago, making some streets higher than others and channeling rain onto lower roads.

Airlines were forced to cancel more than 650 flights at Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com.

Southwest canceled about 50 departures through Friday morning, and the number could grow, a spokesperson said. The airline is letting customers rebook on flights to and from Miami and Palm Beach at no additional charge, she said.

Frontier Airlines moved two flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami but canceled about 15 other round trips, a spokesperson said. Allegiant Air also canceled some flights and rerouted others to the Tampa, Orlando and Punta Gorda areas.

Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest school district in the nation with more than 256,000 students, canceled classes Thursday and Friday after water inundated halls and classrooms in some schools.

The scene as floodwaters rose in the streets on Wednesday was chaotic, with abandoned cars “floating like boats,” tow truck driver Keith Hickman said.

“A truck would come by and the wake would push the cars into the other cars, and they were just floating,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the region received “an unprecedented amount” of rain. The weather service was still confirming totals, but some gauges showed up to 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) of rainfall.

“For context, within a six-hour period the amount that fell is about a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening within a given year,” Bhatti said. “So it’s a very historical type of event.”

___

Kozin, Spencer and Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press reporter Kathy McCormack contributed from Concord, New Hampshire.

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Airport looks to open as South Florida floods slowly recede