Drenching rainstorm takes aim at New England after flooding; 5 dead in trek up the East Coast

By Tom Foreman Jr., AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

5 dead as drenching rains take aim at New England

NEW YORK — Torrential downpours from a faded tropical storm marched into the Northeast on Friday, a day after claiming five lives in North Carolina, knocking out power and dousing some East Coast cities with more rain in hours than they normally get in months.

Massachusetts was in line for a soaking as the storm began making its way across New England on Friday. The torrential downpours and high winds struck the Berkshires early in the morning and were expected to hit the Boston area by midday.

The weather also snarled air, road and train traffic in the New York City area Friday morning. Motorists and pedestrians there coped with sheets of rain, poor visibility, slick roads and strong wind gusts as they made their way to work. The Federal Aviation Administration reported flight delays of up to three hours at New York’s LaGuardia airport.

The massive rainstorm drove up the Eastern Seaboard from the Carolinas to Maine on Thursday, the worst of it falling in North Carolina where Jacksonville took on 12 inches in six hours - nearly a quarter of its typical annual rainfall.

Four people, including two children, were killed when their SUV skidded off a highway about 145 miles east of Raleigh and plunged into a water-filled ditch, North Carolina troopers said. A fifth victim likely drowned when his pickup veered off the road and into a river that was raging because of the rain.

Forecasters warned of the danger of flash floods as rain drove across the densely populated East Coast cities with buffeting winds on a drive to New England. The Friday morning rush hour was a challenge as subway lines experienced delays and traffic slowed on rain-slicked roadways.

Water rushed through the streets of the flood-prone Philadelphia suburb of Darby, covering cars and lapping against first-floor windows. Firefighters on Friday were using a ladder truck to check on a second-floor apartment in a row house. Rainfall totals in the Philadelphia area topped 10 inches.

After a mostly dry summer around the Northeast, the fall storm provided inches of much-needed rain. New Jersey has been under a drought watch for nearly two months.

Forecasters said much of the rain would continue its advance across New England during the day, though it likely won’t be the deluge that hit North Carolina.

Meteorologist Tim Armstrong with the National Weather Service in Wilmington declared the 22.54 inches to be the rainiest five-day period there that he could find on record since 1871. It easily beat Hurricane Floyd’s 19.06 inches in 1999.

“We’ve measured the last drop of rain in our bucket for this event,” Armstrong said. “I went through Floyd also and I thought I knew what rain was. Then I went through this.”

He marveled at how a wet week changed everything: “We were praying for rain and we slipped into a moderate drought last week. It all turned around in a hurry.”

As skies cleared over Wilmington, heavy rain pushed through the Mid-Atlantic, New York City, eastern Pennsylvania and beyond.

Forecasts said a large high pressure system over Canada was expected to push the storm further offshore and likely spare New England the kind of extreme rainfall that flooded roads and homes.

Sheila Mezroud said sandbags kept floodwaters out of her Carolina Beach home for only a short time. “I have to walk through an inch of water to get from the living room to the bathroom,” she said.

The rain was part of a system moving ahead of the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, which dissipated over the Straits of Florida on Wednesday.

But the rain caused several other wrecks Thursday, including a crash between two transit buses in Maryland that left 26 people injured. Standing waters and fallen limbs on tracks slowed several Amtrak trains, while some Northeast airports reported flight delays of up to three hours. Parts of Virginia had 7 inches.

Forecasts called for cooler, drier air in many areas once the storm passed.

Associated Press writers Sandy Kozel in Washington; Jim Fitzgerald, Deepti Hajela and Frank Eltman in New York; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C.; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Tom Foreman Jr. and Tom Breen in Raleigh, N.C.; and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

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