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Historic rain in South Florida causes severe flooding, closing schools and Fort Lauderdale’s airport

<i>Joe Raedle/Getty Images</i><br/>Workers use a tarp to protect themselves from the rain on April 12 in Dania Beach
Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Workers use a tarp to protect themselves from the rain on April 12 in Dania Beach

By Joe Sutton, Taylor Ward and Travis Caldwell, CNN

More rain is in the forecast after substantial downpours inundated Fort Lauderdale and parts of South Florida in a 1-in-1,000 year rainfall event, leading to a flash flood emergency in Broward County that closed schools, forced drivers to abandon their cars and shut down the airport through Thursday morning.

While the rain Thursday won’t reach nearly the amounts that fell on Wednesday, it will be problematic and create additional flooding, the National Weather Service said. Gusty winds, small hail and even isolated tornadoes are possible.

Broward County is under a flood warning through 8 a.m. ET, the weather service in Miami said.

Between 14 and 20 inches of rain have drenched the greater Fort Lauderdale metro area since Wednesday afternoon, according to a Thursday morning update from the National Weather Service office in Miami. The deluge is the “most severe flooding that I’ve ever seen,” one mayor said.

“This amount of rain in a 24-hour period is incredibly rare for South Florida,” said meteorologist Ana Torres-Vazquez from the weather service’s Miami forecast office.

Rainfall of 20 to 25 inches is similar to what the area can receive with a high-end hurricane over more than a day, Torres-Vazquez explained. She described the rainfall as a “1-in-1,000 year event, or greater,” meaning it’s an event so intense, the chance of it happening in any given year is just 0.1%.

“Even though the heavy rain has concluded, numerous roads remain closed,” the weather service said, adding that flooding is expected to persist.

Earlier, Fort Lauderdale was “experiencing severe flooding in multiple areas of the city,” Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue said on social media, warning to stay off the roads as vehicles may become stuck or submerged.

A flash flood emergency — the highest level of flood warning — that was in effect for portions of South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, expired early Thursday.

“This is a PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION,” the NWS warned. “Move to higher ground now! This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.”

City crews in Hollywood, Florida, “are doing everything they can” to deploy pumps wherever possible and keep drains clear, Mayor Josh Levy told CNN.

“We’ve recorded over 12 inches of rain since midnight, and that’s on top of consecutive days of seemingly nonstop rain,” Levy said. “The ground was already saturated so there is extensive flooding all over our city and throughout South Florida. Many roadways are impassable. Lots of vehicles got stuck and left abandoned in the middle of our roadways.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. This is the most severe flooding that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

More rain and storms expected Thursday

South Florida could get inundated with more even rain as showers and strong storms are in the forecast Thursday.

“After a historic day of rainfall across portions of South Florida that many of us will not soon forget, another potential wet day is ahead for today,” the weather service in Miami said.

There is a slight risk, Level 2 of 5, for severe storms Thursday in parts of Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Jacksonville, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Floods inundate key parts of Broward County

Fort Lauderdale officials have activated its emergency operations center and will be issuing a proclamation of a local state of emergency, saying in a statement early Thursday morning that airboats and high-clearance buggies have been secured from the county sheriff’s office and the Florida Wildlife Commission.

“Staff is assessing park facilities to convert them to staging/reunification centers for individuals impacted by the flash floods. We expect to open these as soon as possible,” the city said. There is “no power at City Hall. We have reports of water flooding the first floor of the Transportation and Mobility (TAM) building.”

The city’s system is designed to take on at least 3 inches of rain in a 24-hour period but they’ve “had neighborhoods receive more than 12″ of rain. Service crews will be out to respond to flooding reports and concerns.”

CNN has reached out to city and county officials for additional information.

Officials have asked residents to avoid driving or traveling in Fort Lauderdale amid the storms.

“Police and Fire Rescue continue to answer calls for service,” the city of Fort Lauderdale said in a news release on Wednesday evening. “Public Works staff are clearing drains and operating pumps to mitigate the water as quickly as possible. Efforts have been made to relieve traffic congestion through prioritized signaling to assist individuals leaving the City. We are requesting drivers to stay off the roads and avoid the City of Fort Lauderdale until the water has subsided.”

The flooding impacted rush hour traffic Wednesday and led to the closure of a tunnel, the city said.

“The Henry E. Kinney Tunnel is closed. Please avoid the area. The weather conditions combined with rush hour traffic are compounding issues in the downtown area,” the city said.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday it is “being inundated with non-emergency 911 calls regarding the inclement weather” and asks residents to use 911 only for “true emergencies,” also telling residents to avoid driving and to call a tow truck company if a vehicle is stranded and not in an emergency.

Some local services are shuttering Thursday. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is closed due to ongoing flooding in the vicinity and will reopen at noon, according to an update from the airport. The airport’s departure level reopened to allow people to exit the area, the airport said early Thursday morning.

The Brightline train service has been temporarily suspended between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the service said on social media.

Additionally, Broward County Public Schools announced the district will close Thursday.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Brandon Miller, Robert Shackelford, Derek Van Dam, Sara Weisfeldt, Tina Burnside and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

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