Rain sets record for Phoenix; commute snarled

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- The remnants of Hurricane Norbert pushed into the desert Southwest and swamped Phoenix with record rainfall for a single day, turning freeways into small lakes and sending rescuers scrambling to get drivers out of inundated cars.

At least two people died in the flooding, including a woman who was swept away in her car by rushing water and became trapped against a bridge. In addition, a 76-year-old woman drowned in floodwaters.

The flooding was caused by heavy thunderstorms and showers associated with Norbert after it was downgraded to a tropical depression.

Sections of the two main east-west and north-south freeways through Phoenix - Interstates 10 and 17 - were closed during the morning commute, snarling traffic across the metro area.

Cars and SUVs sat in water up to their hoods on Interstate 10, while dozens of motorists parked on its wide, banked borders to stay clear of the water. A state Department of Public Safety officer used the roof of his SUV to carry three stranded motorists from a flooded area of I-10.

Joseph Friend was driving onto the freeway at 43rd Avenue 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 vehicle, he climbed out and walked up the freeway embankment to wait it out. His pickup truck was barely visible at the peak of the flooding.

Other drivers were stranded in the median. After the highway was shut down, a woman on top of her car in the median called for help, so Friend waded out and led her to safety.

"She was asking for help and nobody went out there, so I went out there and helped her out," Friend said. "I was already soaked anyway."

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

The National Weather Service recorded 3.29 inches of rain at the Phoenix airport, by far the most precipitation ever received in one day in the city. The previous record was 2.91 inches in 1939.

Other Phoenix metro areas received staggering amounts of rain for the desert. Chandler recorded 5.63 inches, while Mesa had 4.41 inches.

Phoenix sometimes receives heavy rain and wind during the summer months, the result of monsoon storms in the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The past six years have produced a highly erratic pattern as the city has gone from huge rainfall one summer to scant precipitation the next, said meteorologist Charlotte Dewey.

For example, Phoenix received 5.7 inches of rain during the summer storm season in 2008, followed by less than an inch the next summer. The 2011 summer was marked by little rain and towering dust clouds that enveloped the city, while this season has produced record rain. Monday's single-day rainfall totals eclipsed the average total precipitation for the entire summer.

Storms also hit Nevada, where an Indian reservation was evacuated Monday and officials feared water could breach a dam after more than four inches of rain fell on the town of Moapa in a two-hour period.

Erin Neff of the Clark County Regional Flood Control District said authorities were keeping an eye on the Virgin River, which was at 9 feet by midafternoon Monday and floods at 11 feet.

Heavy rains were threatening to breach a dam on the Muddy River, which feeds the already swollen Virgin River. That could send water into homes in Moapa, northeast of Las Vegas

In Phoenix, the freeways became submerged after pumping stations could not keep up with the downpour, the Department of Transportation said. Sections of Interstates 10 and 17 were closed most of the day.

In Tucson, nearly 2 inches of rain in a short period turned normally dry washes into raging torrents. A woman was found dead after her car was swept about two blocks by water 10 to 15 feet deep then wedged and submerged against a bridge, Tucson Fire Department spokesman Barrett Baker said.

"This is the worst thing in the world for us," Baker said. "We talk all summer really about the dangers of washes."

Rescuers with the Northwest Fire District, a Pima County department, needed 30 minutes to reach a man in a car and pull him from the passenger side, which was shielded against the fastest-flowing water.

The rescue was "as close as it gets before we lose somebody," spokesman Adam Goldberg said.

In Tempe, part of a grocery store roof collapsed 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 area.

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 were reported, with over 10,000 customers losing power.

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PHOENIX (AP) -- The remnants of Hurricane Norbert pushed into the desert Southwest and swamped Phoenix with record rainfall for a single day, turning freeways into small lakes and sending rescuers scrambling to get drivers out of inundated cars.

In Tucson, a woman died after her car was swept away by rushing water and became trapped against a bridge.

The flooding was caused by heavy thunderstorms and showers associated with Norbert after it was downgraded to a tropical depression.

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

Cars and SUVs sat in water up to their hoods on the freeway, while dozens of motorists parked on its wide, banked borders to stay clear of the water.

Joseph Friend was driving onto the freeway at 43rd Avenue 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 vehicle, he climbed out and walked up the freeway embankment to wait it out. His pickup truck was barely visible at the peak of the flooding.

Other drivers were stranded in the median. After the highway was shut down, a woman on top of her car in the median called for help, so Friend waded out and led her to safety.

"She was asking for help and nobody went out there, so I went out there and helped her out," Friend said. "I was already soaked anyway. "

By late morning, the water on I-10 had receded, allowing trucks to take away 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 rainfall also eclipsed the average total rainfall of 2.71 inches for the entire summer rainy season in Phoenix.

The Arizona Department of Transportation said its pumping stations couldn't keep up with the downfall on freeways.

In Tucson, nearly 2 inches of rain in a short period turned normally dry washes into raging torrents. The woman was found dead after her car was swept about two blocks by water 10 to 15 feet deep then wedged and submerged against a bridge, Tucson Fire Department spokesman Barrett Baker said.

"This is the worst thing in the world for us," Baker said. "We talk all summer really about the dangers of washes."

Rescuers with the Northwest Fire District, a Pima County department, needed 30 minutes to reach a man in a car and pull him from the passenger side, which was shielded against the fastest-flowing water.

The rescue was "as close as it gets before we lose somebody," spokesman Adam Goldberg said.

Elsewhere, dozens of drivers were stuck in rapidly moving water. Faith Lutheran School became flooded, KVOA. reported.

Johnjay Van Es of the syndicated radio show Johnjay & Rich was stranded in his BMW at an intersection near his Phoenix office around 4 a.m. Van Es said 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 car into the waiting truck of co-host Rich Berra.

In Tempe, part of a grocery store roof collapsed 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 area.

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 were reported, with over 10,000 customers losing power.

The flooding came during an especially wet season in Arizona that included a storm three weeks ago that dumped more rain on some areas than has been received all last summer. That storm also prompted several dramatic rescues as floodwaters submerged cars.

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

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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PHOENIX (AP) -- 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 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.

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

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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PHOENIX (AP) -- Heavy storms pounded the Phoenix area early Monday, flooding major freeways and small roads, leading to several water rescues and setting an all-time record for rainfall in the city in a single day.

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. Flash flood watches covered most of the rest of Arizona.

Sections of the major freeways 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.

"It's dangerous to get tow trucks out there," DPS spokesman Bart Graves said.

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.

On Interstate 10 on both sides of the 43rd Avenue overpass in west Phoenix, television video of I-10 showed at least a half-dozen vehicles sitting in water up to their hoods, while dozens of other motorists parked part way up on the freeway's side embankment to stay clear of the water.

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.

Johnjay Van Es of the syndicated radio show Johnjay & Rich was among the drivers who got stranded in the floodwaters. Van Es told The Associated Press Monday that he didn't see the water in a dark intersection near his office around 4 a.m. 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.

DPS officers initially closed all lanes of I-10 except for one in each direction at 43rd Avenue, but ultimately had to completely shut down the freeway, Graves said.

"It was pitch-black and the storm system was moving in pretty heavily," the spokesman said.

The motorists who parked on the embankments "were lucky," Graves said. "They were safe in doing so."

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 the Phoenix Fire Department was performing several water rescues. In Scottsdale, 25 firefighters helped free a man trapped in his car by 3 feet of running water. There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

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.

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AP writer Alina Hartounian contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.