South Florida braced for 'life-threatening' floods after days of rain

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) -More torrential downpours deluged South Florida on Thursday, adding to more than a foot of rain that fell on parts of the state this week and leading forecasters to issue flood watches or warnings for an area where 8 million people reside.

Some areas, including portions of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, are threatened with "life-threatening flooding," the National Weather Service said.

A few spots have reported up to 18-to-25 inches of rain since Monday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The slow-moving storm - a disorganized tropical depression drawing its strength from warm Gulf Coast and Atlantic waters - is expected to linger over the state until early Saturday before pushing out to sea, Oravec said.

Even though the system is not expected to strengthen into a tropical storm, it could be a wet prelude to what is expected to be a busy hurricane season, which got underway on June 1.

With another 5 inches of rain possible before Friday night, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for five South Florida Counties late on Wednesday.

Media reports and social media posts showed stalled cars and people wading in streets covered in hip-deep water, or paddling in small boats and kayaks. In some areas water has swamped lawns and pushed up to the front doors of houses and other buildings.

Parts of Interstate 95, a main north-south route along the East Coast, were closed due to flooding on Wednesday.

"The problem is that there is no place for the rain to go," said Oravec. "The ground is so saturated. In some places water is rising up from the sewers."

The storm led officials to postpone the demolition of the building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and staff were killed in February 2018 in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

The building, some parts still bloodstained, was closed immediately after the shooting and fenced off to preserve evidence. The demolition has been rescheduled for Friday.

In nearby Fort Lauderdale, Mayor Dean Trantalis declared a city-wide emergency due to flooding. He said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission was sending boats and high-water vehicles to assist any rescues if needed.

Trantalis urged people to stay off roadways. "It's crucial to never attempt to drive through high water," he warned in a message on the X social media platform.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also declared states of emergency, freeing up money and resources to better cope with the storm and its aftermath.

HURRICANE FORECAST

Forecasters are expecting eight to 13 hurricanes in the Atlantic this season, seven of which could build into major storms. Overall some 17 to 25 named tropical storms are expected.

An average hurricane season produces about 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes.

In recent years, the frequency and intensity of hurricanes has increased linked to warming sea temperatures caused by higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frank McGurty, Kirsten Donovan)

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