Some records are broken. Others are smashed beyond belief. The rain that hit the New York City suburbs late Tuesday and early Wednesday clearly fell into the latter category, dumping a remarkable 13.1 inches of rain in just a few hours.
Major highways resembled flooded junkyards as motorists abandoned their cars amid fast-rising water. Rain came down in blinding sheets, filling basements and overwhelming sewage systems. Strangers helped others caught in vehicles and unable to open their doors against the water's weight.
"It was unprecedented and unpredicted. The size, the event, the scale," the Suffolk County executive, Steve Bellone, told reporters Wednesday morning, after the worst of the storm had passed and waters had begun to recede.
At least one death was blamed on the monsoon-like weather: a motorist killed in a crash on the Long Island Expressway at the height of the storm early Wednesday. The system that brought the rain has also been blamed for at least two deaths in the Detroit area, which was slammed by heavy rains earlier this week.
Victims in Michigan included a 100-year-old suburban Detroit woman found in her flooded basement on Tuesday, and a 30-year-old woman who suffered seizures after becoming trapped in her vehicle by rising water.
At a news conference, Bellone said Suffolk County's storm drains are designed to handle as much as five inches of rain in a 24-hour period. This storm delivered about 13 inches of water in just a few hours, with 9.2 inches of it falling in just a two-hour period, he said.
According to the National Weather Service, the town of Islip, which is 52 miles east of Manhattan, received the most rain. The 13.10-inch total there smashed the previous state record of 11.5 inches, which came during Hurricane Irene in August 2011.
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Delaware and Virginia also received heavy rainfall, but none were hit as hard as New York's Long Island, where video and photographs showed vehicles floating down the Southern State Parkway, and commuter rail tracks underwater.
Kassandra Ade said she was trapped in her car until two "good Samaritans stopped and came and helped me climb out" through a window. "If it wasn't for them, I don't know," she told WABC-TV.
Melanie Councell also got trapped in her car by rising water, which she said reached her steering wheel. "I panicked, but I think the adrenalin helped me get the door open," Councell told WABC.
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