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Fort Lauderdale Is Drenched With Up to Two Feet of Rain, Shutting Its Airport

Thunderstorms that pummeled Fort Lauderdale and other parts of southeastern Florida with up to two feet of rain were expected to pick up again on Thursday, forecasters said, after the storms trapped motorists in floodwaters and left travelers stranded inside a shuttered international airport.

Storms are a way of life in South Florida, but more than 25 inches of rain fell at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport over a 24-hour period, according to a preliminary estimate released by the National Weather Service.

If confirmed, the rainfall total would smash Fort Lauderdale’s one-day record of 14.59 inches, which was set on April 25, 1979. The city, which lies in Broward County on Florida’s Atlantic coast, is one of the largest in the state.

The airport, which closed early Wednesday evening, had been expected to fully reopen at noon on Thursday. But the airport later announced that it was delaying the reopening for flight activity until 5 a.m. on Friday because of debris and water on the runways.

The closures, flooding and bad weather combined to cause hourslong traffic jams.

On the ground, it was clear why. One local television station, 7 News Miami, showed kayakers paddling through the streets in Hollywood, navigating past a stranded rental car. In Fort Lauderdale, local news outlets broadcast images of runways at the airport inundated with water, and of residents, holding their belongings, wading through dark, waist-high water in their streets.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but many roads in Fort Lauderdale were impassable on Thursday because of the flooding, the city announced. It said crews were dispatched to clear storm drains, and special trucks, outfitted with tanks and a vacuum hose, were deployed.

“However, because of the extreme amount of water, most areas will need to drain naturally,” the city said.

Broward County schools were closed on Thursday.

“I’ve lived here my entire life,” said Dawn Grayson, 49, who sat in traffic for four hours after arriving at the airport to learn that her flight to Las Vegas on Wednesday night had been canceled. “I’ve never seen anything like that happen before.”

The additional rainfall expected on Thursday was not likely to be as heavy, but it would fall on ground that is already saturated, raising the possibility of further localized flooding, the Weather Service said. A flood warning for parts of Broward County and other areas of South Florida was scheduled to remain in effect until noon.Other parts of South Florida were under a flood watch, indicating a lower level of risk, until Thursday evening. City facilities in Fort Lauderdale will not reopen until Friday.

The city, which lies in Broward County on Florida’s Atlantic coast, is one of the largest in the state. Its one-day rainfall record of 14.59 inches occurred on April 25, 1979.

Ms. Grayson said she and three family members left their home in nearby Miami-Dade County nearly five hours before their flight. They all work for the family business and were heading to Las Vegas for a conference.

The drive, in torrential rain, took an hour, or three times longer than usual, Ms. Grayson said. Along the way, she saw water cascading off a flooded runway and cars stuck in floodwaters.

By the time they arrived at the airport, it was closed, several parking garages were flooded, and airport staff and Uber drivers had joined the ranks of dazed airline passengers who were sheltering in place and wondering how to get home.

“I didn’t quite understand how we even got out of there because the weather was so bad,” Ms. Grayson said by phone early Thursday. “But we did, and then driving home was extremely scary.”

Late Wednesday night, her seven-hour ordeal ended where it had started: at her home. Her mother and sister managed to rebook flights to Las Vegas out of Miami. But she and her husband were not able to rebook, so they canceled their trip.

That may be just as well because floodwaters have seeped under the large doors of their workplace, in a warehouse district of Miami-Dade County, and someone needs to clean up.

“They’re going, and we’re going back to work tomorrow,” she said with a laugh. “Back to life.”

Judson Jones contributed reporting.



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