By Aya Elamroussi, Leyla Santiago and Denise Royal, CNN
Fort Lauderdale and other communities across southeast Florida are working to get life back to normal after monumental flooding wreaked havoc on the area, closing transportation hubs, schools and government offices.
During the peak of Wednesday’s torrential barrages, a month’s worth of rain fell in just one hour. Many of Fort Lauderdale’s streets turned into lakes when rain exceeding 2 feet inundated the coastal city.
Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue crews on Thursday handled “another 250 calls for help on top of the 900” calls received during flooding the day before, according to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis.
“Thankfully there have been no deaths recorded,” Trantalis said during a Friday afternoon joint news briefing. There was a report of two firefighters sustaining minor injuries after they were shocked by an electrical wire. “They are OK,” the mayor added.
As floodwaters receded Friday, first responders are still conducting wellness checks and assisting residents in need of shelter.
Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said, “This is the second most catastrophic flooding event that I’ve seen in my tenure as emergency manager … over the last 33 years,” surpassed only by Hurricane Ian.
Getting back up and running
The flooding shut down the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for about 40 hours. It reopened Friday morning.
Surrounding areas were also lashed with well above a foot of rain, leading to rapid flooding that trapped residents, made driving miserable for motorists and frustrated air travelers who could not leave the airport.
“What we’re seeing is individuals in need of assistance,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan. “There’s really, at this point, no life safety issues that are out there. Just individuals that become overwhelmed with what has taken place and need assistance to escape flooded areas or homes,” Gollan said.
“We have crews on the ground that are out there meeting those needs one by one and bringing them to a point where we get them some food, some water” and transported to a shelter, he added.
“We had a headcount of 32 people in shelters on Thursday night,” said Amelia Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Roughly 600 others came through a family reunification center to receive food and water, Johnson said.
The flooding impacts also prompted Broward County Public Schools Friday to cancel classes for the second consecutive day.
In addition to responding to hundreds of rescue calls, crews throughout the Fort Lauderdale metro area have been working to clear drains and deploy pumps where possible to help alleviate the effects of flooding.
Hollywood, Florida, Mayor Josh Levy said his city saw more than a foot of rain accumulate in areas that have been experiencing consecutive days of “seemingly nonstop rain.”
“The ground was already saturated so there is extensive flooding all over our city and throughout South Florida. Many roadways are impassable. Lots of vehicles got stuck and left abandoned in the middle of our roadways.
“I’ve lived here my whole life. This is the most severe flooding that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued a state of emergency for Broward County to provide additional resources to crews and residents on the ground.
Jeremy Ennis, who said he has been working in Fort Lauderdale for about 23 years, was stuck on a city road in his car Thursday as water levels remained high.
“Never have I seen anything like this, ever,” Ennis told CNN. “I’ve never seen this volume of water, and I’ve seen (Hurricane) Katrina. I’ve seen many more hurricanes.”
A few scattered thunderstorms are expected Friday and could bring localized flooding. The threat is not expected to be widespread. For the weekend, Saturday looks dry and a few scattered storms are possible Sunday.
Rain was akin to high-end hurricane, forecaster says
Fort Lauderdale, home to nearly 200,000 residents, saw 25.91 inches of precipitation in a 24-hour period spanning Wednesday and Thursday, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service office in Miami.
The deepest standing water surveyed Thursday was in the Edgewood neighborhood just north of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where a still water mark of just over 3 feet was measured near Floyd Hull Stadium, according to the weather service in Miami.
Other surrounding areas, including Hollywood, Dania Beach and Lauderdale Lakes, collected between 12 and 18 inches of rain in the same 24-hour period, the preliminary reports show.
“This amount of rain in a 24-hour period is incredibly rare for South Florida,” said meteorologist Ana Torres-Vazquez at the weather service’s Miami forecast office.
A high-end hurricane would typically dump rainfall of 20 to 25 inches over more than a day, Torres-Vazquez said, describing the rainfall as a “1-in-1,000 year event, or greater,” meaning it’s an event so intense the chance of it happening in any given year is just 0.1%.
During the peak of Wednesday’s torrential barrages, a month’s worth of rain fell in just one hour. Fort Lauderdale’s average rainfall for April is 3 inches, and it’s been nearly 25 years since the city totaled 20 inches of rain in an entire month.
That’s why it will take time for the water to drain completely, officials said.
“Because of the extreme amount of water, most areas will need to drain naturally,” Trantalis said. “Crews are out in neighborhoods clearing storm drains to aid water receding from neighborhoods. Vacuum trucks are being deployed strategically throughout the city.
“There is not one area of this city that has not been impacted.”
Climate change is making extreme flooding events more common
Extreme rainfall rates are a signature consequence of a warming climate, and they are happening more frequently as a result.
This is just the latest instance of record rainfall striking US cities, after several 1-in-1,000 year rains struck last year, including in Dallas, eastern Kentucky, St. Louis and Yellowstone National Park.
The reason climate change causes more extreme flooding is because warmer air can hold more water vapor, making storms capable of dropping much more rainfall.
According to the latest US National Climate Assessment, “Climate change has already shifted precipitation patterns across the country … including an elevated likelihood of extreme rainfall events.”
Increases in “very heavy precipitation events” — the heaviest 1% of all daily rainfall events — have been observed in every region of the US, according to the National Climate Assessment.
In the Southeast, records show very heavy rainfalls have increased by 27% over the past 50 years.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the number of people in emergency shelters.
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CNN’s Jay Croft, Carlos Suarez, Alisha Ebrahimji, Joe Sutton, Raja Razek, Travis Caldwell, Jennifer Gray, Monica Garrett, Melissa Alonso, Brandon Miller, Robert Shackelford, Derek Van Dam and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.