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.
Meanwhile, waves of rainwater lapped up to the guardrails on Sunrise Highway, also in Bay Shore. The busy east-west corridor was rendered impassable.
“It’s been horrible,” a man said while sitting in his stationary car. “I had a doctor’s appointment – cancelled. I don’t know when I’m going to be getting home.”
“It feels like we had a huge hurricane without the winds,” a woman added.
“I wish I’d never left the house this morning — that’s how I feel,” added Pat Ciloa of Babylon.
Drivers got out of their cars and stood on the Sunrise Highway, watching it turn into rapids.
“Mind-boggling; frightening. You know, you think tsunami,” a woman said. “You get all this rain and it makes you, like a reality check.”
At least six cars were also submerged in flood waters on the Northern State Parkway, which was closed at Route 107. One driver whose car became stuck said he had to climb to safety through the sunroof.
“Literally, I’m driving and then all of a sudden, ‘boom’ — water,” Michael Dennis told CBS 2’s Vanessa Murdock. “I couldn’t even see that it was that high. It was really a nightmare.”
And side roads were no better, as water cascaded down from the highways. Residents said they heard the pounding before dawn, but did not expect anything like what they saw.
By mid-morning, the water had subsided in some areas and traffic began moving again along a road surface coated with a slippery-looking film of oil, dirt and grass.
Bellone said the rainfall amounts were more than what the county could handle.
“The drainage systems in the county, and you find similar numbers throughout the municipal systems, are designed to sustain a 5-inch storm over a 24-hour period,” he said. “This was 13 inches over several hours.”
Bellone said there was one weather-related fatality. He said the driver of a sport-utility vehicle was killed when the vehicle burst into flames after it collided with a tractor-trailer on the Long Island Expressway.
As for other means of transportation, the Long Island Rail Road reported scattered delays and some suspensions because of weather-related problems.
As late the evening commute delays persisted on the Montauk, Port Jefferson and Oyster Bay branches of the LIRR. Earlier, service was shut down altogether between Kings Park and Port Jefferson because of flooding east of Smithtown.
WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola spoke with commuters at Penn Station who were heading home to face and repair damage sustained by the heavy rains and flooding.
“There’s this huge sinkhole in the backyard,” Dave Johnson of Port Jefferson said before heading home to help his wife with repairs. “There’s a 10-by-10-by-6-foot-deep hole in my backyard which is only about 40 feet by 40 feet anyway. Apparently an old septic tank gave way because we’re now on town sewer.”
John from Seaford was surprised to see so much flooding.
“I went through one area that had at least six inches of water. It wasn’t even like that during the hurricane. It was incredible,” he said.
LIRR service was back to normal late Wednesday night.
“Worse Than Sandy”
Some Long Island residents said Wednesday’s flooding was worse than Superstorm Sandy.
“It’s like devastation all over again. I think it’s actually worse than Sandy over by us, we had overturned cars,” one Lindenhurst resident told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
“This is worse than Sandy,” another woman said. “This is unbelievable. No one was prepared for this. A little rain turned into a big disaster.”
“This is the first I’ve ever seen this,” one Babylon resident told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “Even during Sandy, it wasn’t this bad.”
“I have never seen this,” one Bay Shore resident told CBS 2’s Gusoff. “Before and during Sandy, we didn’t have this because it didn’t rain. The rain this morning was ridiculous.”
“My basement has about four and a half feet of water in it, I’ve pretty much lost everything in the basement,” Babylon resident Anne Morrow told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “During Hurricane Sandy, we got nothing so to me, this is unbelievable.”
Morrow’s daughters made the most of it by putting on their swimsuits and paddling down the street.
“Now I have a beach house in my backyard,” one daughter said.
Indeed, residents of block after block in western Suffolk County neighborhoods were stunned at the damage from the freak rainstorm.
Joseph Gregg of Lindenhurst was standing ankle deep in water that he said all came from the rain.
“It’s fresh water. I was in the backyard when one of the boats sank back there, and I went in, and I tasted – the water went in my mouth, and it’s fresh water,” Gregg told CBS 2’s McLogan. “It’s all rainwater.”
LIRR commuter Joe Smith of Lindenhurst and his neighbors awoke to a deluge.
“If it wasn’t for my sump pumps in basement, it would be a total flood-out,” Smith said.
From Amityville to Islip, families were caught off guard.
“I am trying to get in touch with my mother. We can’t even find where she is,” said Andrea Feaser of Amityville.
Some stood by helplessly as the waters rose, while others were quickly ordered out of flooded streets by the county Health Department. Parents such as Susan and John Viscusi of Lindenhurst were unnerved.
“We’re on the ground floor – I don’t have a basement,” Susan Viscusi said. “I’d love to know where all this water is going to go. We don’t really have a lot of a lot of sewage, you know, drainpipes here in this town.”
As the rain fell, driveways turned into rain-swollen rivers, and floodwaters reached more than 4 feet to meet clotheslines.
“I look out the window, and it’s teeming — the rain is coming in buckets. I look over to the right, and then my car is half under water,” John Viscusi said. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it out. You know, the water came up on all sides. The back of the house is pretty much done for – the back pool, the shed, my deck. The water came out of nowhere.”
The Viscusis on Wednesday afternoon called their insurance company, which just helped them through Superstorm Sandy. They were crossing their fingers that relief will be on the way again.
The residential neighborhoods of Farmingville were also hit particularly hard, CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported. The rainwater there caused flash flooding, created sinkholes, tore up a driveway, and left a car that had been parked on solid ground hanging on a ledge.
“I looked out to the backyard, and there was no backyard,” said Tara Wright of Farmingdale. “It was just water, and it looked like a river coming through my backyard.”
The flash flood alert buzzed on Tara Wright’s phone around 6 a.m. Seconds later, her son ran upstairs from the basement, telling her she had to get out of the house.
“We really thought the house was going to go down,” Wright said.
Water filled to the top of the basement stairs, forcing Wright and her mother and son to race for higher ground. Along with two dogs, they jumped right into the water and forced their way up the block to higher ground.
After the rain moved on, some basements were in ruins and had to be ripped apart.
“We just figured, let’s get all the sheet rock out of the house so there won’t be any mold, and then we’ll deal with this at a different time,” said resident Ozzy Delatorre.
But Wright’s home was the worst affected. Officials condemned the home hours after the flooding and fenced off the family’s pool. Wright and her mother and brother will stay with family until they figure out what to do next.
Cuomo said resources have been deployed to Long Island to help with the flooding and said the state’s Emergency Operations Center has been activated to monitor the situation.
He said 400 New York State Department of Transportation workers are out pumping water from roadways and clearing debris.
For more information, click here.
The Town of Brookhaven has also set up a hotline for its residents who have run into structural or electrical issues from flooding. The hotline is available at (631) 451-TOWN.
Rain Drenches New Jersey, Connecticut
The storm also slammed parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.
In New Jersey, nearly 9 inches of rain fell at Millville Airport in Cumberland County between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
There was more than 7 inches in Stafford, more than 5 inches at Atlantic City airport and in Manasquan and more than 4 inches in Tabernacle.
Buses are honoring tickets for NJ TRANSIT North Jersey Coast Line passengers because flooding in the Bay Head Rail Yard is making it difficult for crews to access the trains.
For more information from NJ TRANSIT, click here.
In Connecticut, streets were flooded in some parts. Unofficial rainfall amounts are as high as 8.9 inches in Chester with much of the region seeing more than 2 inches.
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