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Mighty rains deluge cars, close roads in Northeast

By FRANK ELTMAN AND JIM FITZGERALD

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 12:10 p.m. HST, Oct 01, 2010



LEVITTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — 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.

The storm that killed five people in North Carolina on Thursday soaked a great swath of the Northeast by the Friday morning commute, including New York City and Philadelphia. Flights coming into LaGuardia Airport in New York City were delayed 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 26,000 power outages were reported in Connecticut, while New Jersey had just over 14,000 homes and businesses without electricity. More than 12,000 customers in the New York suburbs had lost power, but many had been restored by midmorning as the deluge reduced to a drizzle.

Massachusetts was in line for a soaking as the storm began making its way across New England on Friday. The torrential downpours and high winds struck the Berkshires early in the morning and were expected to hit the Boston area by midday. A flood watch is in effect for much of the state.

Forecasters say winds could gust up to 60 miles per hour.

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.

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.

Forecasters warned of the danger of flash floods as rain drove across the densely populated East Coast cities with buffeting winds on a drive to New England. The Friday morning rush hour was a challenge as subway lines experienced delays and traffic slowed on rain-slicked roadways.

Forecasters said much of the rain would continue its advance across New England during the day, though it likely won't be the deluge that hit North Carolina.

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.

"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."

___

Associated Press writers Sandy Kozel in Washington; Jim Fitzgerald, David Caruso and Deepti Hajela in New York; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C.; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Tom Foreman Jr. and Tom Breen in Raleigh, N.C.; Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., Wayne Parry in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., Joann Loviglio in Upper Darby, Pa., and Michael Hill in Albany, N.Y. contributed to this report.






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