Band of storms bring 'life-threatening flooding' to South Florida, snarls I-95

Updated

Editor's Note: This page is a summary of news on the flooding in South Florida for Wednesday, June 12. For the continuing coverage on severe weather in South Florida, view our file for Thursday, June 13.

The National Weather Service warned "life-threatening flooding" was drenching South Florida Wednesday evening as the onslaught shut down a swath of critical I-95 by Fort Lauderdale.

"High water vehicles are deployed strategically around the city and ready to respond as needed," Fort Lauderdale officials said in a post on X. "Avoid driving if possible. Never drive through high water."

The deluge has caused hundreds of flights bound to and from South Florida airports to be grounded.153 flights leaving Miami International were canceled, according to FlightAware, a plane tracking website; 149 flights headed for Fort Lauderdale International were canceled, equivalent to 34% of arrivals; and hundreds of flights were delayed out of the two airports.

Forecasts expect Southwest and South Florida to bear the brunt of the storm. Some areas have seen more than 7 inches of rain, with more expected through Friday. Lee County and Fort Myers could see an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain before the system moves all the way through, according to the National Weather Service. In one area near the Big Cypress National Preserve, more than 15 inches of rain has already fallen.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Indiana Miranda said I-95 would be closed "until further notice and water drains from the Interstate."

The torrential rains were expected to continue for hours. Meteorologists issued a tornado watch in Palm Beach County.

"Catastrophic and life-threatening flash flooding is expected to continue into the evening hours across south Florida with an emphasis on the highly urbanized and densely populated I-95 corridor from Fort Lauderdale south through Miami and Homestead," the National Weather Service said in an advisory about the "extremely high-impact flash flood event."

Florida governor declares state of emergency

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for five counties after the torrential rainfall this week, with additional rain expected to "further exacerbate" ongoing flood conditions over already heavily impacted and vulnerable areas. The declaration includes Broward, Collier, Lee, Miami-Dade and Sarasota counties.

At 7:30 p.m., the weather service issued a broader flood warning for Broward and Miami-Dade counties, given the 5-13 inches of rain that has already fallen with additional rain expected.

Flooding in rivers, streams, canals and other low-lying areas is occurring or imminent, the warning said. Several structures have flooded, and numerous roads remain closed.

"It will take several hours for all the water from these storms to work through local drainage systems in urban areas," the weather service said.

– Dinah Pulver

Floods hit Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean J. Trantalis declared a state of emergency and said Florida Fish and Wildlife would send boats and buggies. Eyewitness footage showed a person kayaking down a boulevard of the seaside community between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Flooding last year caused officials to pull the plug on its historic City Hall building, and city employees decamped early from their temporary offices Wednesday because of the weather, a spokesperson for the mayor's office said.

The rain Wednesday comes as the city is in the process of installing $500 million in stormwater infrastructure upgrades, including tidal control valves, drainage pipes, raising seawalls and constructing stormwater reserves, the mayor told USA TODAY via email.

"We're accelerating plans and trying to keep up with climate change and sea level rise as we're seeing more intense and unprecedented rain events like this," Trantalis said.

Floods remind South Florida resident of last year's deluge

Milena A. Amit runs a downtown Fort Lauderdale law firm with her husband. She abandoned plans to work late Wednesday evening when the rising floodwaters outside began giving her flashbacks of last year's deluge.

“It’s becoming like an annual aquatic rodeo,” said Amit, 41. “They called it a once in a generation storm of flooding, but little by little it’s becoming not such a unique event.”

She, her assistant and her husband piled into his Lexus GX SUV, a towering car she said they bought exactly for such emergencies. Other office workers left their cars in the garage and went to high ground to call an Uber. At least one person decided to camp at the office, something many realized was a possibility after 25 inches of rain fell on the city in 24 hours last year.

“Before last year, if somebody said that to me, I would say you're being sensational for retweets,” she said. Now, “it’s becoming an inside joke, ‘Everybody bring an air mattress.”

The New York native moved to South Florida in 1996 and said the floods have become more and more disastrous as the city has grown in size. She was concerned about what the rest of the summer could bring.

“We're also in the infancy of our hurricane season,” she warned. “While we made this out OK, we brought my assistant home safely, we’re engaged with our staff about what’s happening tomorrow, a lot of people don’t have that capability and it’s sad to see.”

Storm ensnares cars and shutters restaurants in Sarasota

Residents in Sarasota, about 60 miles south of Tampa, were reeling from Tuesday's downpour, which brought a whopping 5-10 inches of rain to the area. Some downtown restaurants closed Wednesday while others were left deserted as flooding swept through outdoor patios.

Mattison’s City Grill general manager Darryl Dillon said water crept into the outdoor patio for the first time in a storm that wasn’t a hurricane.

“Nobody was out,” Dillon said. “I stepped out of my car into a foot-and-a-half of water.”

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office received 18 service calls for cars stuck in water and four calls for abandoned cars. The county's fire department received 43 calls for cars stuck in floodwater, 39 calls for fire alarms and 15 calls for downed wires. Between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday, personnel responded to 282 total calls for service – 100 more than their daily average.

Assistant Fire Chief Tim Dorsey said crews were able to safely evacuate people trapped in vehicles, but some residents chose to stay in their cars until the water receded. Crews will continue to be on alert in case residents need assistance throughout the rainy week.

“It’s static water,” Dorsey said. “They’re not in any danger. If the water was moving or other scenarios that would make it more dangerous, we would definitely extricate them from the vehicle.”

– Melissa Pérez-Carrillo and Heather Bushman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Total rainfall

Radar estimated rainfall across South Florida from midnight through 6 p.m. on June 12, 2024.The intense rain caused widespread flooding in the region, prompting an emergency declaration by Governor Ron DeSantis in five counties.
Radar estimated rainfall across South Florida from midnight through 6 p.m. on June 12, 2024.The intense rain caused widespread flooding in the region, prompting an emergency declaration by Governor Ron DeSantis in five counties.

Flood safety tips

The Red Cross encourages people to assemble an emergency preparedness kit, including food, water, a flashlight and a first aid kit. People should create an evacuation plan “and ensure each family member knows how to get back in touch if they are separated during an emergency.”

Emergency officials encourage people to “learn and practice evacuation routes, shelter plans and flash flood responses,” in case they need to get to higher ground quickly.

Flash flooding can come with no warning, so individuals may want to assemble kits before potential storms.

People can use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s online resources and other tools to understand their area’s risks for flooding.

Contributing: Laura Lordi, Diamond Walker, Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post; Cheryl McCloud, USA TODAY Network; Marina Pitofsky, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida flooding overwhelms communities, I-95

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