April 14, 2023 By Freida Frisaro, Daniel Kozin And Terry Spencer, The Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — One of Florida’s busiest airports announced plans to reopen Friday morning, two days after an unprecedented deluge left planes and travelers stranded and turned Fort Lauderdale’s streets into rivers.
Officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport completed final inspections after sunrise Friday and said in a tweet that operations would resume at 9 a.m.
“Travelers are advised to check with their airlines for updated flight times BEFORE coming to the airport. Thanks for your patience as we work to restore normal operations,” the tweet said.
The airport shut down Wednesday evening as a storm dumped more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain.
“Nature has been unkind to us,” Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher said during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the airport.
A flood warning was expiring, but the National Weather Service warned motorists that water-covered roads could still be a hazard.
All across Fort Lauderdale, residents and business owners cleaned up. While it started raining on Monday in South Florida, much of the water fell Wednesday, and the Fort Lauderdale area saw record rainfall amounts on a matter of hours, ranging from 15 inches (38 centimeters) to 26 inches (66 centimeters).
On Thursday, residents in the city’s Edgewood neighbourhood waded through knee-high water or used canoes and kayaks to navigate the streets. Dennis Vasquez, a window screen installer, towed some of his neighbour’s belongings on an inflatable mattress to a car on dry land. He himself lost all of his possessions when water rose chest-high in his house Wednesday night.
“Everything, it’s gone,” he said in Spanish. “But I will replace it.”
Christopher Alfonso and Tony Mandico, neighbours for 50 years in Edgewood, said their homes are likely total losses.
They said the area never severely flooded until a sanitary sewer system replaced septic tanks 10 years ago, making some streets higher than others and channeling rain onto lower roads.
Airlines were forced to cancel more than 650 flights at Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com.
Southwest canceled about 50 departures through Friday morning, a spokesperson said. The airline is letting customers rebook on flights to and from Miami and Palm Beach at no additional charge, she said.
Frontier Airlines moved two flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami but canceled about 15 other round trips, a spokesperson said. Allegiant Air also canceled some flights and rerouted others to the Tampa, Orlando and Punta Gorda areas.
Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest school district in the nation with more than 256,000 students, canceled classes Thursday and Friday after water inundated halls and classrooms in some schools.
The scene as floodwaters rose in the streets on Wednesday was chaotic, with abandoned cars “floating like boats,” tow truck driver Keith Hickman said.
“A truck would come by and the wake would push the cars into the other cars, and they were just floating,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the region received “an unprecedented amount” of rain. The weather service was still confirming totals, but some gauges showed up to 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) of rainfall.
“For context, within a six-hour period the amount that fell is about a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening within a given year,” Bhatti said. “So it’s a very historical type of event.”
Kozin, Spencer and Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press reporter Kathy McCormack contributed from Concord, New Hampshire.