Record-setting rains doused the tri-state area Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, causing flash flooding and power outages, downing trees, forcing evacuations in one storm-stricken New Jersey town and turning at least one New York highway into a river that swallowed abandoned cars, many with their hazard lights still blinking.
A motorist on the Long Island Expressway was killed when the driver swerved and hit a tractor-trailer and guard rail; the vehicle burst into flames upon impact, authorities said. The fatal accident was the only weather-related death; the tractor-trailer driver had minor injuries. No other storm-related injuries have been reported.
In Islip, more than 5 inches of rain fell in one hour Wednesday morning. The town saw a record one-day rainfall of 13.55 inches, smashing the state's previous record for daily rainfall of 11.6 inches set on Aug. 28, 2011 in Tannersville.
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Town of Islip Supervisor Tom Croci declared a state of emergency for the town to assist flood relief efforts, and Gov. Cuomo announced he was deploying a mobile command center to the town to provide insurance assistance to residents and businesses. The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Islip Town Hall parking lot. Residents can also call the Department of Financial Services' disaster hotline at 800-339-1759.
The rough weather crippled the morning and evening commutes for Long Island Rail Road riders. The LIRR reported system-wide delays during rush hour, and service on parts of the Port Jefferson branch was suspended for hours in both directions because of flooding east of the station in Smithtown. Westbound service was also suspended on the Far Rockaway Branch for a time.
The system drenched the entire region, with the Jersey shore, Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk counties seeing the largest rain totals.
Ocean County in New Jersey saw 7 inches of rainfall and more than 5 inches was record in Monmouth County. New York City saw much lower totals, with John F. Kennedy Airport seeing the most rain at 3.2 inches.
In Suffolk County, fire crews had to be dispatched in boats to rescue drivers trapped on waterlogged roads. Parts of the Southern State Parkway were closed around Baldwin and about 20 miles east in Deer Park. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said first responders saw cars floating down the highway.
Bellone called the deluge "a storm of historic proportions."
By mid-morning, the water subsided in Deer Park and traffic began moving again along a road surface coated with a slippery-looking film of oil, dirt and grass.
For many, though, the headaches remained. Several dozen abandoned cars were strewn along the grassy shoulder.
Juan Ortiz of Brentwood was standing on an overpass next to his disabled vehicle waiting for a friend, six hours after he became stranded.
At first, he had navigated puddles on the parkway "with no problem." But then, "out of nowhere, I passed underneath this overpass. ... I just ran into a lake" about 3 to 4 feet deep.
He said he thought, "What the hell's going on?" then got out of his car and pushed it up a ramp and onto the overpass. He saw other people in similar straits and helped out as much as he could.
"It was ridiculous," said Ortiz.
A 10-foot by 12-foot sinkhole that opened up in a Bay Shore shopping center parking lot was also blamed on heavy rain.
The rains caused power outages throughout the tri-state area, and there were several reports of downed trees and road closures.
One homeowner in Union, New Jersey, said she was awakened by her husband telling her a tree had fallen on their house.
"I was like, 'No, go back to bed, what are you talking about,'" she said. "He was like, 'No, really, the tree's on the house. Get out of bed.'"
The southern New Jersey town of Millville saw its second-highest rainfall total ever recorded, with 9 inches falling and causing widespread street flooding Tuesday night.
As much as 5 feet of water flooded some of the town’s streets and caused several houses to collapse, according to the Red Cross. Several families in that town were displaced.
More than a dozen Nassau County beaches were closed to prevent swimmers' potential exposure to heightened bacteria levels from storm runoff.
The rain moved out of the region by mid-morning, but left behind flooded garages and basements that had homeowners reeling.
"I've been pumping all day. I got four feet of water in my crawl space and I'm still pumping," said Frank Greco of Islip. "The sewers were so filled you couldn't keep up with the water coming in. It's coming up as fast as you can. It's all groundwater coming up."
Another Islip homeowner, Gary Bruckner, said rain flooded the streets so quickly "it literally looked like a stream or river going past the house."
"I've never seen anything like this before. It was unbelievable," he said, adding that he had to row out into his neighbor's yard.
Skies should stay clear through Saturday, with highs each day hitting the upper 70s and low 80s. Scattered storms are again a possibility on Sunday.