Phoenix flooding: Record rainfall snarls traffic

Phoenix flooding turned freeways into small lakes as commuters scrambled to escape their inundated cars. The Phoenix flooding came after the city broke its all-time record for rainfall in a single day.

Ross D. Franklin/AP/File
A vehicle tries to navigate a severely flooded street as heavy rains pour down Monday, in Phoenix. Storms that flooded several Phoenix-area freeways and numerous local streets during the Monday morning commute set an all-time record for rainfall in Phoenix in a single day.

The remnants of Hurricane Norbert pushed into the desert Southwest, swamping metro Phoenix with the city's all-time record rainfall for a single day, turning freeways into small lakes and sending rescuers scrambling to get drivers out of their inundated cars.

A list of road closures is available on the City of Phoenix's website. Officials said to contact the American Red Cross at 800-842-7349 If you have been affected by the storm and need shelter. 

A flash flood warning was issued for most of the Phoenix area and its outskirts through late Monday morning because of heavy thunderstorms and showers associated with Norbert, which had been downgraded to a tropical depression. Flash flood watches covered most of the rest of Arizona.

Sections Interstate 10 and 17 in west Phoenix were closed during the morning commute, and a state Department of Public Safety officer used the roof of his SUV to carry three stranded motorists out of a flooded area of I-10.

On Interstate 10 on both sides of the 43rd Avenue overpass in west Phoenix, cars and SUVs sat in water up to their hoods, while dozens of other motorists parked on the freeway's embankment to stay clear of the water.

Those motorists on embankments "were lucky," DPS spokesman Bart Graves said. "They were safe in doing so."

By late morning, the water on I-10 had receded, allowing trucks to haul away the several dozen vehicles that had been swamped and stranded.

The National Weather Service recorded 2.99 inches of rain by about 7 a.m., breaking the old record of 2.91 inches set in 1933. The morning rainfall also eclipsed Phoenix's average total rainfall of 2.71 inches for Phoenix's entire summer rainy season.

That stretch of freeway was one of several that resembled small lakes as the Arizona Department of Transportation said its pumping stations couldn't keep up with the downfall.

Joseph Friend was driving onto the freeway at 43rd Avenue at about 4:15 a.m. when a passing big rig ruined his day.

"A big tidal wave just came up and totally took me out, came over the hood of my truck," Friend said.

With water filling his truck, he climbed out and walked up the freeway embankment to wait it out.

Johnjay Van Es of the syndicated radio show Johnjay & Rich was stranded at an intersection near his office around 4 a.m. Van Es told The Associated Press on Monday by phone that he didn't see the water in the dark intersection until it was too late.

"I just coasted into the flood," he said.

Van Es was stranded for two hours and did part of his radio show from his car. He was able to crawl from an open window of his swamped BMW into the waiting truck of co-host Rich Berra.

Part of a grocery store's roof collapsed in Tempe because of the rain, but none of the people inside was injured, police Lt. Mike Pooley said.

Numerous street closures were reported in cities across the metro area, and fire departments were dispatched on multiple water rescues, Phoenix fire Capt. Ruben Saavedra said. There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency because of the flooding and told non-essential state workers to stay home.

Scattered electricity outages are reported in the metro area with over 10,000 customers losing power.

Numerous school systems and colleges either closed schools, delayed openings or advised parents that buses were running late.


AP writers Bob Christie and Alina Hartounian contributed to this report.

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