A record-setting rainstorm dumped more than a foot of water on parts of suburban New York in a matter of hours Wednesday, turning highways into streams that stranded hundreds of drivers, flooded basements and caused at least one fatal crash.
“We’ve had another historic extreme weather event here,” Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County Executive, said at a news conference outside the North Babylon firehouse where dozens of stranded drivers were brought for shelter during the height of the storm.
The National Weather Service said a summer’s worth of rain fell within a few hours — over 13 inches at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. That was more than the area’s normal total for June, July and August of 11.75 inches.
More than 5 inches fell in just a one-hour period, from 5 to 6 a.m. Wednesday, said weather service meteorologist Joe Pollina. He said the area’s previous state record for rainfall over a 24-hour period was 11.6 inches near Tannersville during Tropical Storm Irene three years ago.
Bellone said most municipal sewer systems can handle about 5 inches of rain in 24 hours. “What happened today was unprecedented,” he said.
One person died when an SUV was hit by a tractor-trailer on the Long Island Expressway at the height of the storm, according to Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke. No charges were immediately filed.
In North Babylon, firefighters encountered dozens of vehicles stuck in the rising waters.
“We had occupants climbing out of windows because they couldn’t open their doors,” said Lt. Timothy Harrington, the first firefighter on scene. “Some of the water was over the vehicles’ roofs. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
James Piano, of Islip Terrace, was rescued by firefighters after his truck was swamped with waist-high water.
“That little Miata over there was floating in the middle lane, literally floating,” Piano said.
Some south shore Long Island communities slammed by Superstorm Sandy nearly two years ago experienced flashbacks as roads closed and basements filled with water.
Gerard Kapetanakis said there was about four inches of rain in his basement in Lindenhurst. “There was so much water there was no place for it to go,” said the construction worker.
The storm caused havoc across the Northeast. While New York City was largely spared, parts of New Jersey got more than 7 inches and several homes were evacuated in Millville, N.J.
Baltimore got 6.3 inches, its highest rain total since 1933 and the second-highest since measurements were first taken in 1871.
In Rhode Island on Wednesday, manhole covers were swept off by water that filled the streets in Providence.
The same system dumped rain on Michigan earlier in the week. Portions of several Detroit-area freeways remained closed Wednesday morning as crews worked to remove mud, trash, abandoned vehicles and other debris.
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