Record rain inundates highways in New York's Long Island
NORTH BABYLON, N.Y. — New York's heaviest downpour on record dumped a summer's worth of rain on parts of Long Island in a matter of hours on Wednesday, swamping highways before drivers could escape, flooding basements and causing at least one death.
The 13.26 inches recorded at Mac-Arthur Airport in Ronkonkoma during the morning was more than the area's normal combined total for June, July and August of 11.75 inches. It smashed the state record for 24-hour rainfall of 11.6 inches near the Catskills town of Tannersville during Tropical Storm Irene three years ago.
“What happened today was unprecedented,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said outside the North Babylon firehouse where dozens of stranded drivers were brought for shelter during the height of the storm.
Volunteer firefighters in communities across Long Island used trucks and equipment usually used to fight brush fires to rescue stranded drivers. The trucks stand high off the ground and can maneuver through several feet of water.
On the Southern State Parkway in North Babylon, firefighters encountered about 50 vehicles either stuck in the rising waters or pulled off to an elevated apron on the side of the highway.
“We had occupants climbing out of windows because they couldn't open their doors,” said Lt. Timothy Harrington, the first firefighter on the scene. “Some of the water was over the vehicles' roofs. I've never seen anything like this before.”
James Piano of Islip Terrace was rescued by firefighters in North Babylon when his truck was swamped with waist-high water.
“That little Miata over there was floating in the middle lane, literally floating,” Piano said.
No injuries were reported among the stranded drivers, but officials said one person died when a sport utility vehicle driving slowly during the height of the downpour was hit by a tractor-trailer carrying waste oil on the Long Island Expressway near Dix Hills.
Suffolk County police Chief James Burke said the person who died was in the SUV.
No charges were filed, but police said the weather-related crash was under investigation.
By midmorning, the water subsided there and traffic began moving again along a road surface coated with a slippery-looking film of oil, dirt and grass.