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South Florida Faces Severe Flooding Amid Record Rainfall

This week’s deluge — more than 20 inches in some spots — overwhelmed drainage systems across South Florida, clogging roads with feet of water and leaving hundreds of cars stalled. The state and multiple cities declared a state of emergency as floodwater poured into homes and businesses, halted traffic on Interstate 95, and froze travel from both major airports.

By midday Thursday, normal activities had mostly resumed, and some spots had dried up despite more than a foot of rain this week. However, with another 4 to 8 inches of rain projected for Thursday evening, and up to 10 inches in some areas, officials warned residents not to let their guard down. With the ground now saturated with millions of gallons of rain, it won’t take much to set off a fresh round of flash flooding.

“Don’t be deceived by the sun peeking out from the clouds,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at a press conference Thursday in the county’s emergency operations center in Doral. “We’ve seen clear skies this morning, but we are expecting heavy rainfall once again today.”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis echoed that message in an afternoon press conference, warning that the city could see another 10 inches of rain overnight, “which could turn into a disaster very quickly.”

“It is very, very important — I want to stress this — for everyone to stay off the roads,” he said. “The roads need to be open for emergency vehicles to get to emergency situations.”

Flood Response and Community Impact

Trantalis addressed concerns from residents asking the city to deploy one of its 22 temporary pumps or 15 vactor trucks to their neighborhoods. He explained that the city was doing everything it could to contain the water Wednesday night, but at a certain point, the rain was overwhelming. “To be able to pump water out, we need to put it somewhere,” he said. “We had no place to pump the water. The canals were full.”

The South Florida Water Management District, the main agency in charge of keeping the region dry, has a system designed to handle about 6 to 8 inches of rain per day. While most spots in South Florida stayed below that level, places like Fort Lauderdale did not. In response, the district set up five temporary pumps, including one in Miami Beach and four near the Miami River by the Miami International Airport. It’s also storing extra water inside the C-4 drainage basin, a 900-acre space used for massive floods.

Fort Lauderdale’s drainage system, which works alongside the district’s pumps and canals, is designed to handle about 3 inches of rain in a day — or up to 7 inches in some of the newly redesigned spots. What happened Wednesday, and what’s expected Thursday night, exceeds those levels significantly.

“This level of water may outpace what our stormwater system is capable of handling,” Trantalis said.

Swamped Roads and Homes

The brief reprieve from the rainfall Thursday morning revealed that the worst damage was concentrated in Hallandale Beach and Hollywood, which saw more than 19 inches of rain between Tuesday and Wednesday. Broward Sheriff’s Office Battalion Chief Michael B. Kane said his department received 174 calls for help from Hallandale Beach alone Wednesday evening, leading to 26 high-water rescues — some by boat.

“We were very fortunate. The area of high-density calls was in a very concentrated area. We were able to keep up with all the calls,” he said. With a potential repeat event on the way Thursday evening, Kane warned drivers to stay off the road unless it’s an emergency. “I couldn’t tell you how many roads we couldn’t traverse because of all the stranded vehicles,” he said.

On Thursday afternoon, Hallandale Beach residents Peter Jelonk and his wife, Patricia, described this week as the worst rain they’ve seen in their 24 years living there. Their neighbor, Alim Sharif, spent Thursday morning cleaning up after 3 inches of rain entered his home Wednesday. “This is the end of it. I’m moving,” he said.

Community Efforts and Personal Struggles

At Sam Demarco’s house in Hollywood, water seeped under his front door, and passing cars pushed the water further inside. Demarco, whose home was flooded in April 2023, moved most of his furniture to the back of the house in anticipation of weather like this week’s. “I’m not giving up paradise for a little bad weather,” he said.

Residents at Royal Palm Mobile Home Park in Hallandale Beach were dealing with the aftermath of the storm, with many cleaning out their flooded homes. Manuel Sarmiento, 78, helped his sister Guil Cardenas, 75, who was stuck in her home after water gushed onto her front porch and cracked her stairs.

In Allapattah, resident Marvin Morales used his personal flood pump to drain floodwater from his backyard. Morales, who built a concrete wall around his back porch two years ago, said it saved his home from damage this year. In North Miami, Robert Lee’s home was surrounded by water that invaded his garage, ruining his tools and paint. “There is nowhere to go ‘cause we are so close to the ocean,” Lee said.

Rescue Operations and Further Precautions

In Miami-Dade, the bulk of the rain was dumped in North Miami and Miami Beach, prompting about three dozen rescue calls from people trapped in homes or businesses by rising floodwaters. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Ray Jadallah said the department used converted military vehicles with wheels six feet off the ground to ferry people to higher ground during the rescues.

As of Thursday morning, State Farm reported more than 300 vehicular flood claims from South Florida. AAA suspended service overnight due to the flooding but resumed operations by mid-Thursday.

With flooded streets and driveways an ongoing concern, Miami-Dade County opened its Metrorail garages for free parking for people wanting to get their vehicles to higher ground. While some hard-hit spots in Miami-Dade had dried up by midday Thursday, others were still underwater.

As residents brace for more rain, the community’s resilience and efforts to stay safe and dry remain paramount. “This rain is giving no justice. It needs to stop,” Lee said.

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Patrick Zarrelli

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