Watch CBS News

Deluge 2023: Remembering Fort Lauderdale's historic flooding 1 year later

Remembering Fort Lauderdale's historic flooding 1 year later
Remembering Fort Lauderdale's historic flooding 1 year later 03:13

FORT LAUDERDALE — On April 13, 2023, a 1-in-1,000-year rainfall event occurred in South Florida, bringing historic rainfall to the region. However, the area that suffered the most was the City of Fort Lauderdale.

Four days of flooding

It was an event South Florida natives had never seen before.

The historic flood event in Broward County began on the night of April 12 as a result of a combination of a slow-moving warm frontal boundary, a deepening low-pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico and deep moisture in the atmosphere, said CBS News Miami's Chief Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera.

  On April 13, 2023, a 1-in-1,000-year rainfall event occurred in South Florida, bringing historic rainfall to the region. However, the area that suffered the most was the City of Fort Lauderdale. FILE/CBSN

During the event, stationary thunderstorms were able to drop torrential rainfall over Fort Lauderdale due to the very moist atmosphere and a persistent onshore flow, drawing moisture from the Atlantic Ocean.

"As a result, the storms were able to maintain very heavy precipitation rates, leading to historic accumulations of over two feet in just a few hours," Cabrera added.

Broward County was placed under a flood warning at first as Fort Lauderdale officials activated its emergency operations centers and issued a local state of emergency. The city then used airboats and high-clearance buggies from the Broward County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission to rescue people and their pets trapped inside of homes by the floodwaters.

BSO was so overwhelmed with calls that they asked residents to only dial 911 in cases of "true emergencies." The agency also advised residents to avoid driving and traveling through the floodwaters and to call a tow truck if their vehicles were stranded and in other non-emergency situations.

In just 36 hours, BSO firefighters responded to several hundred weather-related emergencies to assist stranded motorists when their cars got stuck in high waters.

Authorities at the time asked residents to be patient with the flooding as service crews responded to flooding reports and concerns across the county — even demanding residents to avoid driving or traveling in Fort Lauderdale amid the storms.

Flood recovery news conference
The mayor of Fort Lauderdale held a news conference Saturday to discuss flooding recovery efforts. CBS News Miami

On the following Friday, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said the city's recovery from the week's torrential rainfall and subsequent flooding was progressing well and help was on the way as the city began to dry out.

During a briefing, he said the city has begun receiving substantial help from both state and federal governments, adding that the recovery was truly a joint effort and thanked a host of politicians and municipalities for reaching out to help.

At the time, Trantalis said one of the primary needs of Fort Lauderdale was pump trucks to help clear the floodwaters. Additionally, Trantalis said he and city officials were determined to ensure that residents were safe and that the impacted neighborhoods and communities would be restored.

Trantalis said, thankfully, there have been no deaths associated with the storm but they did have two firefighters who were slightly injured when they were shocked by an electrical wire while undertaking rescue efforts.

He said the city's public works crews were focused on three key areas; ensuring the operation of critical infrastructure, clearing roadways and arteries, and neighborhoods.

Trantalis added Fort Lauderdale suffered a major impact from a highly unusual extreme weather event but they are well on their way to recovery with the help that they've received.

Three days after the storms, the mayor said Fort Lauderdale was still in recovery mode as the Red Cross opened up an emergency shelter that had already reached 80% capacity that Saturday.

other city officials said airport operations were "up and running" and that most of the stranded vehicles that were left abandoned during the height of the storm had been largely removed from city streets.

The official said operations at Fort Lauderdale hospitals were also running as well as the city's water treatment plants.

Trantalis said the city had received reports of price gouging and scams by people purporting to offer repair services. He added that reports of suspected wrongdoing should be reported to the state attorney general's office at 866-966-7226.

The city has also been beset by reports of ongoing shortages of gasoline. However, Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management, said that rumor was ignited about an inability to extract fuel from Port Everglades.

"There is not a shortage of fuel," he said. "Fuel is coming into the area."

Guthrie said officials are working to compile a list of residents whose homes have flooded on the inside with water that has risen to the door knob.

"FEMA crews are being rostered," he said. "We are looking for a list of specific addresses that have interior damage."

What now? Residents hit hard by flooding share stories as city and county recover

One of the industries that was most impacted by the flooding was Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Flooding lingers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Thursday, April 13, 2023. Fort Lauderdale issued a state of emergency as flood conditions continued through many areas. An astounding 26 inches of rain fell in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) South Florida Sun-Sentinel

CBS News Miami's Ivan Taylor spoke to travelers who were stranded over the past 48 hours and found that Friday was a day of joy for a family of three whose vacation in South Florida was extended far more than they expected.

They are all very hopeful they can be home this weekend but at the same time concerned because airport officials said there were more than 200 flight cancelations the day after the flooding.

CBS News Miami's Peter D'Oench toured Edgewood, one of the Fort Lauderdale neighborhoods impacted the most by the flooding, on the Friday after the torrential rain and spoke to residents who told him that they had lost power, their vehicles were flooded and they were stranded in floodwaters.

D'Oench returned to Edgewood days later to find that nearly 280 homes suffered major flood damage. Additionally, other neighborhoods such as Melrose Park also saw flood damage as well.

As Fort Lauderdale continued its recovery, officials and residents were worried about how the spring tide rolling in later that month would hinder storm drainage in the areas that saw the most significant flooding.

CBS News Miami's Larry Seward spoke to city employees and Edgewood neighbors about their concerns regarding the impact of the spring tides.

The amount of rain that submerged parts of Fort Lauderdale caused bacteria levels to climb much higher than expected for the last two years, prompting city officials to advise residents to stay out of the water days after the storms blew through.

CBS News Miami's Jacqueline Quynh spoke with environmental government agencies and experts on how heavy rain and flood impact the microecosystem.

Several homes impacted also saw mold growing inside drywall and other waterlogged household items. CBS News Miami's Joan Murray spoke to homeowners concerned about their health and well-being as they tried their best to clean up from the aftermath.

Local and state leaders seek federal aid for Fort Lauderdale

Nearly a week after the historic rainfall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the Biden administration to declare Broward County a disaster area due to the monumental flooding.

While frequently sniping at each other, the Democratic president and the governor have seen their administrations work together after disasters. That included Hurricane Ian in 2022, which killed more than 140 people and left thousands homeless, and the 2021 collapse of a condo tower in Surfside, which killed 98. 

The following month, FEMA and the Small Business Administration visited Fort Lauderdale to assess the flooding damage and assist everyone who was affected by it.

  On April 13, 2023, a 1-in-1,000-year rainfall event occurred in South Florida, bringing historic rainfall to the region. However, the area that suffered the most was the City of Fort Lauderdale. CBS News Miami

SBA representatives fanned out across Broward County to let businesses know that they were taking applications for low-interest loans for disaster recovery.

Despite the federal aid coming their way, many residents had to brace for another blow as the forecasts called for heavy rain as victims saw progress. Edgewood residents spoke with Seward about the struggles they faced then and now.

President Joe Biden eventually made a disaster declaration to allow those impacted by the flooding — including those without insurance — to apply for money from FEMA; however, there were some limitations. CBS News Miami's Anna McAllister spoke to one lifelong Edgewood resident about her struggle to obtain such funding.

On Facing South Florida, CBS News Miami's Jim Defede spoke with Trantalis, who was at the White House the last week of April to push for federal assistance.

Months later, many are still in recovery

In September 2023, Florida and several other states joined forces to fend off an attempt by the Biden administration to end a lawsuit that challenged changes to the National Flood Insurance Program that have led to higher premiums for many property owners.

A document in the lawsuit said the National Flood Insurance Program included about 1.391 million Florida policies, with total coverage of nearly $367 billion. Many homeowners who have mortgages are required to carry flood insurance.

Along with Florida and Louisiana, other states in the case are Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia. However, a federal judge rejected the states' request on April 1; he ruled that a broader legal battle can continue.

While the National Flood Insurance Program dominates the market, a commentary released Friday by the AM Best financial-rating agency said an increasing number of Florida property owners are buying private flood insurance coverage.

As that legal fight ensued, an insurance expert explained to CBS News Miami's Hank Tester that everyone should have federally subsidized flood insurance, regardless of where they live.

Later in November 2023, Fort Lauderdale's Edgewood neighborhood again saw heavy rains and flooding, prompting some residents to relive the experience they faced in April.

Later in November 2023, Fort Lauderdale's Edgewood neighborhood again saw heavy rains and flooding, prompting some residents to relive the experience they faced in April. CBS News Miami

CBS News Miami's Murray and Ted Scouten visited the community and surrounding neighborhoods as people shared their stories and recollections of the spring's historic rainfall, how the autumn storm compared; and, whether city officials had learned anything since.

Some continued seeing the impact of April 2023's flood nearly a year later.

"We had water chin high and had to crawl through a window to get out," said Fort Lauderdale resident Noah Kahn, whose home was flooded.

Kahn and his family left their house for nearly a year while it was rebuilt. He told Murray there was still work to do — the master bedroom floor has to be raised and they have flood insurance but still need a loan.

"People's personal belongings were in my front tard," Kahn added. "It was a complete and utter disaster."

It was a disaster for the South Florida Wildlife Center, too. Located just yards from the airport, it was underwater after the storm. Center administrator Carolina Montano told Murray the community stepped up and in the past year, they've been able to rebuild what was lost. And fortunately, no wildlife died.

Warren Stewart, who rode out the storm in hard-hit Edgewood, remembers a neighbor's boat being used to deliver flooded residents to dry ground. 

"People have rebuilt," he told Murray. "A lot of the area is better off."

Trantalis told Murray that fortifying infrastructure is about a quarter done. However, it will take another 10 years to get drainage fixed citywide.

"We survived there were no deaths," he said. "Volunteers helped save a lot of people."

For the first time since then, one of Broward County's oldest churches reopened its doors for Easter 2024. The First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale suffered extreme damage from the floodwaters and was already seeing a significant decline in membership, struggling to stay open.

So, the flooding made things seem like the church would close its doors forever. However, that's when the community stepped up. Pastor David Hughes spoke to CBS News Miami about how miraculous it was to see donations flood from inside and out of the congregation to restore the church just in time for the holiday.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.