NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Multiple local government agencies on Long Island declared states of emergency Wednesday after a storm dumped nearly an entire summer’s worth of rain, causing major flooding in some spots that stranded motorists and snarled the morning commute.
From Tuesday evening until Wednesday morning, Islip got more than 13 inches of rain, more than the normal total for June, July and August of 11.75 inches, said Joe Pollina of the National Weather Service.
More than 5 inches of it fell in just a one-hour period, from 5 to 6 a.m. Wednesday, Pollina said. Holbrook got nearly 11 inches.
A state of emergency was declared in Suffolk County, where county Executive Steve Bellone called the weather Wednesday morning a “storm of historic proportions.”
“It was unprecedented and unpredicted — the size, the extent, the scale,” Bellone said at a news conference Wednesday, also remarking that “this could be a 500-year storm we just witnessed.”
Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said the storm brought “a historic amount of rain in a short amount of time.”
The Town of Brookhaven within in Suffolk County also declared a state of emergency. Officials warned that the ground was saturated and could cause sinkholes, collapsing cesspools, and the uprooting of trees.
As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, some Suffolk County homes were still sitting on lakefront property on Wednesday night, as water was having trouble receding even with the help of municipal pumps.
“Had about 12 inches of water in the basement and 4 or 5 inches in the car” one West Islip resident said.
While the storms had long since moved on by Wednesday night, standing water prompted officers to stand guard, and more problems were expected for the Thursday morning commute.
Flooding Wreaks Havoc On Roads
Even with the storms gone, some cars were still submerged under floodwaters late into the night Wednesday.
As CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, floodwaters were inching down slowly on Moffett Boulevard and other Islip streets, but a state of being back to normal seemed like a long way off Wednesday night.
Dacosta Symister’s Nissan Maxima was still submerged, with only its top part visible in the floodwaters along the Sunrise Highway.
It stalled, and Symister abandoned it around 6:30 a.m. Returning around 9 p.m., very little had changed.
“It hasn’t gone down much, as you can see,” Symister said.
Still, the situation was a far cry from Wednesday morning. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, more than 13 inches of rain closed 11 major highways in the early part of the day – and in places that had never flooded before.
Many drivers were stunned that the parkway flooded so quickly.
“My car shut off, the water was just piling up. I started opening my windows in panic,” driver Laura Cutuli from East Meadow told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang. “There was no way to get out. It was just, you were there and that was it. You couldn’t get off — the cars couldn’t move.”
“It looked like just pavement like that, like a puddle that I could go through and I got stuck,” one woman told WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs. “The wave of water just pushed my car up.”
“It was up to my waist,” said James Piano of Islip Terrace, who was rescued by firefighters after his truck was swamped. “That little Miata over there was floating in the middle lane, literally floating.”
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, drivers who hit the road at dawn were still waiting it out six hours later, stymied by the unprecedented floodwaters.
“I got no choice. My exhaust is like, 12 inches from the ground. If I go, water is going to go in there, then there’s going to be a whole ’nother issue,” said driver Leonard Gjonbrekaj. “I just parked on the highway.”
“We got here, and the water just was overwhelming,” said driver Christopher Blum. “The cars were all getting stuck, and floating, actually.”
But in electing to stay put on the roads, Gjonbrekaj and Blum were in better shape than those who tried to navigate through. A total of 100 drivers had to be rescued from flood waters that turned cars into boats from the Southern State Parkway to the Long Island Expressway, as well as some major local roads.
“Next thing I knew, the water — I felt the water on my feet,” said stranded driver Pavel Mazirka. “The car turned off, and I started floating here.”
Medical student Pavel Mazirka, 24, who is in traning to become a doctor, did not see the lake ahead because of the blinding morning rain.
“Next thing I knew, the water — I felt the water on my feet,” Mazirka said. “The car turned off, and I started floating here.”
He bobbed for two hours both inside and outside his vehicle until getting help from Robert Widergerin, a Good Samaritan who rigged up a chain to pull several vehicles to high ground.
Two truck drivers did most of the heavy lifting. Drivers said their flooded out vehicles will have to go to the junk pile.
“Waterlogged – the motor gets locked up, the electrical system get compromised. The car is compromised; it’s salvage at that point,” said Bo Monte of Elite Towing.
Driver Jose Guzman was among those who were left with a wrecked vehicle. His friend, Juan Sanchez, said Guzman has limited insurance coverage and was looking at a total loss with no way to replace his vehicle.
The situation on the Southern State Parkway was also particularly disastrous, as multiple drivers had to be rescued from dozens of cars.
“We had occupants climbing out windows and vehicles, as they couldn’t open the doors,” said North Babylon Fire Department Lt. Tim Harrington. “Some of the water was over the vehicles’ roofs.”
Harrington was the first responder at the scene on the Southern State Parkway, and his uniform was still caked with mud hours later.
Ed Gelber was on his way to work when his Toyota Scion became partially submerged in a foot of flood water just off the Southern State Parkway in Bay Shore.
“Pitch dark, pouring rain and you just couldn’t see the depth of the water,” Gelber told 1010 WINS’ Derricke Dennis. “I was following everybody else and this is where I ended up.”
Laura Cutuli of East Meadow said she had no time to react when heavy rains trapped her on the Southern State Parkway.
“There was no way to get out,” she said. “It was just, you were there, and that was it. You couldn’t get off — the cars couldn’t move.”
“The cars started to float. So everyone just tried to pull to the side, and then the grass was full and that was it. They had to come rescue us,” said Pat Dalton, who was evacuated from the parkway.
Firefighters could not access the parkway with their trucks, so they walked a quarter mile through waist-high water to evacuate people.
No one who was trapped on the Southern State was hurt, but many came to the North Babylon firehouse to get help from the Red Cross as they worked out a plan to get home.