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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Tropical weather floods Miami streets, stranding some motorists


Lemay Acosta and his daughter Layla took a boat ride through their flooded neighborhood in Plantation, Fla., on Monday.

By Eric Adelson, Amanda Holpuch and Nick Madigan


The first tropical threat of the hurricane season in Florida drenched the southern part of the state, leaving behind flooded streets, motorists calling for help from stranded cars and even a sewage overflow.


In Miami, drivers faced slashing rains and impassable streets that disrupted the city and surrounding areas throughout Saturday. The city’s fire department responded to several people caught in cars amid the rising waters, rescuing residents from flooded areas and bringing them to higher ground. Six high-water vehicles with mammoth tires were deployed in the city, the department said on Twitter.


Winds of 40 mph did not meet the threshold necessary for the system to be classified as Tropical Storm Alex, but they did slosh water into the downtown area, which lapped up against sandbags and door frames.


The storm brought more than 10 inches of rain to Miami over a 72-hour span, according to AccuWeather. Key Largo, about 70 miles south of the city, received 11 inches, and Biscayne Park, north of Miami, was hit with 11.6 inches.


Because of the storm, 310 million gallons of wastewater and rainwater flowed into the Miami-Dade County treatment plant, more than double the average daily limit, according to the county. The overflow had “the potential to mix with floodwaters at the facility and flow toward adjacent surface waters,” the county said in a statement.


“Mother Nature inundated the system,” said Jennifer Messemer, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department.


The county issued a no-swim advisory as a precaution, recommending against fishing and boating as well. It also asked residents to decrease water consumption “to the extent possible” until the flooding eased.


There was also reported flooding in communities outside Miami, including Hialeah and Hollywood, as well as in Naples, on the Gulf Coast. Late in the afternoon Saturday, pump trucks in Coral Gables, southwest of Miami, readied an effort to clear flooded blocks in that city, a process that officials said could last into Sunday.


Power outages did not soar after the storm hit, however. On Saturday morning, Miami-Dade County had 4,083 outages, according to PowerOutage.us, although that number had dropped to 3,111 by early afternoon.


By noon, all tropical storm warnings were canceled in most of southwest Florida as the storm pounded the Treasure Coast, in the southeastern region, according to the National Weather Service.


In Key Largo, a docked 25-foot boat sank after being filled with rainwater, according to David Garrido, a spokesperson for the Key Largo Fire Department. There was no persistent power loss, however — only a couple of downed trees.


Meteorologists said that although the storm never fully organized as it traveled from the Gulf of Mexico toward the Florida Keys, it could still strengthen into a tropical storm as it leaves the Atlantic Coast. And Floridians know it does not take much storm development to cause mayhem in Miami — especially on a weekend night when many people are out.


Goncalo Gil, 26, stayed inside as streets clogged with water outside his apartment in the Miami neighborhood of Brickell. Gil, a student pilot, who posted a video of flooded streets on Twitter, wondered if the city’s flood-prevention system, which included stormwater pumps and sea walls, had worked as intended. “From midnight, everywhere was flooded, every car was stalled,” he said.


Warnings about continued possible weather risks remained for the weekend.


Early Saturday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned of “considerable flash and urban flooding” in South Florida. Rainfall totals were expected to be wide-ranging as the storm was forecast to travel toward Bermuda, possibly causing high currents along the Atlantic Coast as it moved away from the mainland.


At the Clock Tower in Palm Beach, about 70 miles north of Miami, Matt Davies, 50, of Delray Beach, called the storm system “surfing weather.” Ten surfers and a paddle boarder braved the conditions to navigate the 4-foot waves.


The forecast for Florida included the possibility of tornadoes over the southern portion of the state through Saturday. The hurricane center also said some cities in the state could see a storm surge of up to 3 feet.


People who live in parts of South Florida that are prone to floods should identify a safe place to go to if waters begin to rise, and be careful not to drive through standing water, Maria Torres, a spokesperson for the hurricane center, said Friday.


“Turn around, don’t drown,” she said.


Yet the region was dotted with drivers taking their chances during the early-morning hours and into the afternoon, even as downpours drenched neighborhoods.


At an intersection in Miami’s Little Havana, dozens of cars paused at traffic lights to take measure of the flooded streets beyond. Most drivers of pickup trucks barreled through the rising water, sending white sprays in all directions.


Drivers of smaller cars could be heard through open windows discussing with their passengers the likelihood of getting through or getting stuck with a flooded engine — the fate of many vehicles elsewhere in the area. Tow trucks raced around, doing a brisk business.


Concerns about dangerous weather in the Atlantic Ocean began this week, almost on cue with the arrival of hurricane season on June 1. Hurricane Agatha, the first named storm in the eastern Pacific region, roared into Mexico as a Category 2 storm with heavy rains and damaging winds. It killed at least nine people and left five others missing, the governor of the southern state of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat, said Friday morning.


Meteorologists expect an “above normal” Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30, with 14 to 21 named storms considered likely.

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