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Fort Lauderdale airport is closed until Friday, with more flooding possible

Cars are seen on flooded streets in Hollywood, Fla., in an aerial view of the effects of heavy rainfall on Wednesday and early Thursday.
Joe Raedle
/
Getty Images
Cars are seen on flooded streets in Hollywood, Fla., in an aerial view of the effects of heavy rainfall on Wednesday and early Thursday.

Updated April 13, 2023 at 3:45 PM ET

Federal weather forecasts don't normally use exclamation marks — so when a flash flood emergency advisory for southern Florida included multiple exclamations Wednesday night, it was a sign of how bad things were, and how much worse they could get.

"SEEK HIGHER GROUND NOW!" the National Weather Service repeatedly told people in the Fort Lauderdale metro area, warning of life-threatening conditions in a statement issued at 9:44 p.m. ET Wednesday.

That dire message was one in a string of warnings, which have continued through Thursday. When it came, areas were already seeing between 12 and 20 inches of rain.

In a 24-hour span, a staggering 25.91 inches of rain fell at the Fort Lauderdale airport, according to the NWS office in Miami, in what would be a new record.

On Thursday, the NWS said more flash flooding is likely in the afternoon, with heavy rain potentially falling at 1 to 3 inches per hour.

"This may lead to additional localized rainfall totals of 3-5+ inches, which could possibly aggravate ongoing flooding conditions across the highly sensitive Fort Lauderdale region," the agency said.

Fort Lauderdale airport is closed until Friday

A truck drives on the flooded runway at Fort Lauderdale- Hollywood International Airport on Thursday. Nearly 26 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period in the area, according to the National Weather Service.
Marta Lavandier / AP
/
AP
A truck drives on the flooded runway at Fort Lauderdale- Hollywood International Airport on Thursday. Nearly 26 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period in the area, according to the National Weather Service.

The Fort Lauderdale airport is closed until at least Friday morning, as the facility copes with flooding and debris from an intense storm that overwhelmed its airfields and nearby roads. Much of the area remains under flooding warnings, after up to 20 inches of rain fell in some areas.

Workers were trying to restore "partial operations on one runway, providing current conditions do not worsen" on Thursday, the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport said.

It advised people not to try to come to the airport without checking their airline's flight status.

The airport announced a halt in operations on Wednesday afternoon, citing flooding and tornado warnings. Overnight, it was able to open its upper-level roadway to allow stranded travelers to leave.

The flooding could have a ripple effect of disrupting springtime travel plans: in addition to Fort Lauderdale, the airport is a key transit point for passengers from the cruise terminals at Port Everglades, some two miles away.

A staggering amount of water fell in hours

Martina Spiering kayaks through a flooded street in Hollywood, Flaa., on Thursday, after record rains fell in the area.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
Martina Spiering kayaks through a flooded street in Hollywood, Fla., on Thursday, after record rains fell in the area.

The preliminary figure of 25.91 inches of daily rainfall would obliterate the previous 24-hour rain record for Fort Lauderdale: 14.59 inches, which was set in 1979.

A tow-truck driver reported seeing hundreds of cars floating and bouncing into each other like bumper boats.

About 5 to 10 miles southeast of Fort Lauderdale, rain fell at a rate of about 2 to 3.5 inches an hour for part of Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

On social media, people in the area posted videos of their homes being flooded amid flashes of lightning. Water was seen rushing in the doors at an airport terminal. On streets, floodwaters appeared nearly level with the hoods of cars on the street. At least one funnel cloud was spotted.

Schools are still assessing flood damages

Broward County Public Schools closed its schools and district offices for Thursday; it also canceled all extracurricular activities.

On Thursday, the district said via Facebook that its staff has been assessing damage and impact from the storm. In an update at 3 p.m. ET, the district said that while it has now assessed over half its sites, "We continue to face challenges accessing many locations due to inaccessible roadways."

The district said it won't be able to provide guidance on whether students should come to school on Friday until later in the afternoon.

"Crews are out in neighborhoods clearing storm drains to aid water receding from neighborhoods," the city of Fort Lauderdale said on Thursday morning. "Vacuum trucks are being deployed strategically throughout the City. However, because of the extreme amount of water, most areas will need to drain naturally."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.