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Torrential downpours cause major flooding in South Florida

Florida streets submerged after downpour
South Florida streets submerged after torrential downpour 02:18

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — Nearly a foot of rain fell in a matter of hours in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday, causing widespread flooding, the closure of the city's airport and the suspension of high-speed commuter rail service for the Broward County region.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis declared a weeklong state of emergency at 11:57 p.m. Wednesday.

The city released a statement Wednesday evening urging residents and visitors to stay off the roads until the water subsided.

"Police and Fire Rescue continue to answer calls for service," the statement said. "Public Works staff are clearing drains and operating pumps to mitigate the water as quickly as possible."

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for Fort Lauderdale and other areas at one point as the chance of thunderstorms continued across the region, warning: "This is a life-threatening situation. Seek higher ground now!"

There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

On Broward Boulevard, a man was seen swimming to the curb on the flooded street at rush hour as cars rolled by.

Drivers recorded themselves rolling through streets where brown, swirling water was up to the wheel wells or nearly to the hood of cars.  

Fort Lauderdale Fire Chief Stephen Gollan told CBS Miami his personnel were involved in lots of water rescues and they had to call in resources from the Florida Wildlife Control.

Drone video showed dozens of cars submerged in downtown Fort Lauderdale:

Up to 14 inches had fallen across the area through Wednesday and the National Weather Service said another 2 to 4 inches were possible as a warm front continued to push northward, bringing the chance of thunderstorms.

Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy told CNN the area already had seen days of 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," Levy said. "I've lived here my whole life. This is the most severe flooding that I've ever seen."

More than 22,000 customers in Florida were without electricity Wednesday night, according to The number was down to about 3,000 Thursday morning.

All Broward County Public Schools will be closed Thursday, the district tweeted, adding that, "All afterschool activities, events, and extracurricular activities are also cancelled tomorrow." Broward is one of the largest school districts in the nation.

Wednesday's relentless showers prompted  Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, one of the largest in the region, to suspend arriving and departing flights, the airport tweeted at around 4:15 p.m. 

CBS Miami reported that the "washout created chaos" at the airport. With it closed, law enforcement blocked the entrance.

Some travelers, desperate to catch their flights, got out on the side of the road and climbed up hills with their luggage to make it to the airport.

"First time we came around here, we saw some cars parked on the side, and people just got out and walked through right into the airport. The officer said that they wouldn't let them in if they did that, but I guess some people are taking the chance," said Aaron Blogg, who was heading to New York.

Video taken by witnesses showed water coming in the door at an airport terminal and a virtual river rushing down the tarmac between planes.

A plane was seen moving on a flooded taxiway:

Around 2 a.m. Thursday, airport officials said the upper level (departures) roadway re-opened to all travelers waiting for family or friends to pick them up as traffic exiting the airport was clear. The entrance to the lower level (arrivals) was still closed. Flight tracking company FlightAware said nearly 300 flights had been canceled as of Thursday morning.

On Thursday morning, the airport announced that it would remain closed until at least 5 a.m. Friday due to flooding and debris on the facility's airfields. The closure will allow the airport to resume "partial operations" on Friday, provided "current conditions do not worsen." 

The heavy rains also prompted South Florida's high-speed commuter rail service to shut down. Brightline posted on Twitter Wednesday evening that train service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale was suspended.

The National Weather Service in Miami declared a flash flood emergency around 8 p.m. Wednesday for Fort Lauderdale, along with the areas around Hollywood and Dania Beach. A short time later, forecasters issued a tornado warning for nearby Davie, Plantation and Lauderhill.

CBS Miami chief meteorologist Ivan Cabrera said radar estimates put rainfall amounts at Dania Beach, which he called "the heart of Fort Lauderdale," at some 20 inches.

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