Woman swept away by floodwaters; what to know about intense rainfall hitting Northeast

Jul 10, 2023, 11:53 AM | Updated: 11:54 am


(CNN)Intense rain and flash flooding that left at least one dead in southeastern New York continued to pelt the Northeast on Monday, forcing residents from their homes and prompting road closures and water rescues.

Over 9 million people are under flood alerts across the Northeast on Monday, including parts of New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine – as well as across the country in Washington and Alaska. Flash flood emergencies and landslides are expected, with heavy rainfall expected throughout the day.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency warning for central Vermont on Monday, where 19 people have been rescued by boat and 25 others have been evacuated, Vermont’s Urban Search and Rescue team coordinator Mike Cannon told reporters Monday.

Two dozen residents were evacuated and two town employees were rescued from flooding Monday in Ludlow, where routes in and out of the city are blocked, Ludlow Emergency Management Director Angela Kissell told CNN. “There’s currently debris and water blocking the main roads. We’re an island right now,” Kissell said.

Ten people were rescued from a campground in Andover when a bridge at Horseshoe Acres Campground was washed out, leaving campers trapped, said Jeannette Haight, the town clerk and treasurer.

“My friends, this is the new normal,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said, addressing the havoc that the storm is wreaking in the state, where a 35-year-old woman died Sunday, swept away by floodwater as she tried to evacuate her Orange County home.

In the same county, where officials have declared a state of emergency, flooding has caused “easily tens of millions of dollars in damage,” county Executive Steve Neuhaus said Monday.

Many residents who tried to drive out of the area Sunday were trapped, Neuhaus said. “We saw many cars that tried to go for it through the water, didn’t make it, and got stuck,” he said, adding that he saw “active duty Army soldiers up to their bellies … we were walking to cars to make sure people got out.”

In Ontario County, in western New York, nearly 100 homes were impacted by the storm, with many residents displaced. Officials in the area have set up a temporary shelter.

Hochul said FEMA and White House officials have offered to assist with the response.

Once-in-a-millennium rainfall

Rainfall in West Point, New York, totaled more than 7.5 inches in six hours Sunday afternoon, according to preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s a 1-in-1000 year rainfall event for the area, according to a CNN analysis of NOAA’s historical rainfall frequency data.

A once-in-a-millennium rainfall event is one that is so intense, the chances of it happening in any given year is just 0.1%.

Reading, Pennsylvania, received 5.35 inches of rain Sunday, shattering its old daily rainfall record of 3.47 inches, set in 1952.

Areas across New England could see 3 to 5 inches of rain Monday, which could bring rainfall totals for this storm up to 12 inches.

A moderate risk, Level 3 of 4, of excessive rainfall is in place in New England through early Tuesday. Rainfall totals across the area are expected to range from 3 to 5 inches.

Intense rainfall rates are expected to continue in Vermont and northeastern New York on Monday, according to the weather service. New York could see 1 to 2 inches of rain per hour, the NWS warned.

In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency as the weather service warned flash flooding could become “extremely dangerous.”

Vermont faces a rare high risk of excessive rainfall, which could push isolated storm totals towards 12 inches when combined with the rainfall that already fell across the area over the weekend. “Significant to potentially catastrophic flash flooding is likely, especially in areas that have recently received heavy rainfall,” Vermont transportation officials tweeted.

“The threat is exacerbated by the fact that the ground is already saturated from recent rainfall events,” the weather service said.

Several additional inches of rain falling over the area in a short period of time – over mostly saturated ground – could set the stage for significant flash and river flooding, as well as mudslides, the weather service warned.

“Flash flood warnings mean travel is extremely dangerous. Please, don’t take any chances,” Hochul said. “Stay home, stay off the roads, and stay safe.”

Millions of New York City residents were under a flood watch Sunday through 6 a.m. Monday.

New York City’s Emergency Management Department cautioned residents living in basement apartments “to be prepared to move to higher ground.” Heavy rains continuing through Monday morning “may cause rapid flooding to basements with little to no notice and can be life threatening,” an alert from the agency sent Sunday afternoon reads.

When torrential rain from Hurricane Ida caused flooding in New York City in 2021, most of the homes where residents were found dead were illegally converted basement or cellar apartments, city officials said.

“Do not underestimate the power of fast-moving water,” Hochul said. “Two feet of fast-moving flood water will float your car, and water moving at two miles per hour can sweep cars off a road or bridge.”

Trapped drivers had to swim out of their cars

Also in New York’s Orange County, people got trapped by floodwaters at the US Military Academy at West Point and had to swim out of their cars to get to safety, a West Point Military Police spokesperson told CNN on Sunday.

In the same county, the town of Cornwall issued a “No travel Advisory” Sunday after storms flooded multiple roads, triggered mudslides and forced rescues from stranded cars.

“TRAVEL IS IMPOSSIBLE,” Cornwall emergency officials said on Twitter. “GET TO HIGHER GROUND. IF SAFE, STAY WHERE YOU ARE.”

In nearby Rockland County, New York State Police reported “numerous motorists stranded” due to flooding in the area.

State Police, local fire departments and EMS were using personnel and equipment to assist motorists and “get them to safety as fast as possible,” spokesman Steven V. Nevel told CNN in an email Sunday.

Firefighters in Canandaigua in Ontario County, New York, received over 150 water related calls and performed dozens of rescues, Canandaigua Fire officials tweeted Sunday, sharing a photo of people kayaking through deluged streets.

Eastern Pennsylvania also saw “significant” flash flooding Sunday afternoon, according to the weather service. The Fleetwood Police Department shared images of deluged roadways in Berks County and urged residents to avoid all travel, adding that crews were out responding to rescues and flooded basements Sunday.

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Woman swept away by floodwaters; what to know about intense rainfall hitting Northeast