Heavy rains wash across Northeast, quickly ending dry spell and cutting power to thousands

By Jim Fitzgerald, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Northeast storm brings sheets of rain, high winds

LEVITTOWN, N.Y. — Flooding posed a threat around the Northeast on Friday on the heels of a pounding storm that submerged cars, cut power to thousands and forced scattered evacuations as it crept up the East Coast.

The rain had largely subsided in hard-hit Pennsylvania, New York and New England by Friday evening. But flood warnings and watches remained in effect in areas that were drenched with more precipitation than they usually get in months — up to 6 inches in mere hours in some places.

The storm was blamed for five deaths in North Carolina on Thursday and a sixth in Pennsylvania on Friday — a woman who apparently drove her car into a rain-swollen creek before daybreak.

A great swath of the Northeast was soaked by the morning commute, including New York City and Philadelphia. Flights coming into LaGuardia Airport in New York City were delayed three hours and traffic into Manhattan was delayed up to an hour.

Firefighters in the Philadelphia area used a ladder truck to pull residents through the upper-floor windows of a building. Cars were submerged up to their windows, and one man found another vehicle floating atop his car.

“I’m a little frustrated, but what can you do? This is just nature,” said the man, 33-year-old graphic artist Ismail Dibona.

Rainfall in the Philadelphia area topped 10 inches. Parts of upstate New York had unofficial totals of more than 6 inches of rain and New York City’s Central Park recorded 3.08 inches.

“My drive to work was a nightmare today,” said Paul Schatz, a paralegal on New York’s Long Island. “On the way, I saw a huge flood and two cars in the flood. All I could see of the two cars were the roofs.”

More than 50,000 power outages were reported in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and the New York City suburbs during the brunt of the storm Friday morning, but many customers had power restored by the afternoon as the deluge reduced to a drizzle.

Several roads in Vermont were closed or restricted after upwards of 5 1/2 inches of rain drenched parts of the state and sent rivers and streams overflowing their banks. In Montpelier, nonessential state workers were sent home Friday after the Winooski River threatened state parking lots.

The National Weather Service extended a flood watch for Vermont to late Friday and the Red Cross opened a shelter in Rutland. In New Jersey, some rivers were slightly above flood stage. The National Weather Service said they would fall below flood level by Friday night.

The flooding might have been worse if not for a dry spell across much of the Northeast, said New Jersey State climatologist Dave Robinson.

“The saving grace was that we were dry and the rivers were low before this,” he said.

Tom Hawley from the National Weather Service says rainfall totals in Maine are going to be much smaller than the 2 to 4 inches originally forecast. He says it’ll be closer to 1 to 1 1/2 inches of rain.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, investigators believe the crash victim may have veered off the road in Collegeville because flood waters obscured her view of its edge, said Trooper John Dorazio. The area is isolated and dark, Dorazio said, and the woman may have simply come upon water she didn’t know was there.

The storm hit the Berkshires in western Massachusetts hard Friday morning but without the high winds that could have stripped trees of leaves during fall foliage season, said Lauri Klefos, the president of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau in Adams.

“We have all kinds of festivals and outdoor activities in the region this weekend, so if it had to happen, I am happy it happened on a Thursday and Friday,” she said.

A mudslide in neighboring New Hampshire closed a road.

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, state 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.

High winds were blamed for a blimp accident in North Carolina that seriously injured the pilot. Police said the unidentified pilot’s aircraft broke loose from its moorings Thursday night and slammed it into an unmanned balloon at an Elizabeth City facility.

Meteorologist Tim Armstrong with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., 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.”

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 collision of two transit buses in Maryland that left 26 people injured.

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

Associated Press writers Sandy Kozel in Washington; Jim Fitzgerald, David Caruso and Deepti Hajela in New York; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C.; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; Tom Foreman Jr. and Tom Breen in Raleigh, N.C.; Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H.; Wayne Parry in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.; Joann Loviglio in Upper Darby, Pa.; Wilson Ring in Warren, Vt., and Michael Hill in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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