A potent rush-hour rainstorm swamped the New York metropolitan area on Friday, shutting down some subways and commuter railroads, flooding streets and highways, and delaying flights into LaGuardia Airport.

Up to 13 centimetres of rain fell in some areas overnight, and as much as 18 centimetres more was expected throughout the day, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday morning.

By midday, although there was a break in the downpour, Mayor Eric Adams urged people to stay put if possible.

“It is not over, and I don’t want those gaps in heavy rain to give the appearance that it is over,” he said at a news briefing. He and Hochul, both Democrats, declared states of emergency.

No storm-related deaths or critical injuries had been reported as of midday, city officials said. But residents struggled to get around the waterlogged metropolis.

Traffic hit a standstill, with water above cars’ tires, on a stretch of the FDR Drive — a major artery along the east side of Manhattan. Some drivers abandoned their vehicles.

Priscilla Fontallio said she had been stranded in her car, which was on a piece of the highway that wasn’t flooded but wasn’t moving, for three hours as of 11 a.m.

“Never seen anything like this in my life,” she said.

A passenger leans over to speak with the driver of a vehicle stuck in contaminated floodwaters
A passenger speaks with the driver of a vehicle stuck in contaminated floodwaters on Sapphire Street in the Hole, one of the lowest neighborhoods in New York City on Sept. 29, 2023. (Bing Guan/REUTERS)

Residents taking stock of damage

On a street in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, workers were up to their knees in water as they tried to unclog a storm drain while cardboard and other debris floated by.

The city said that it checked and cleared key drains, especially near subway stations, ahead of the storm. But that was little comfort to Osman Gutierrez, who was trying to pry soaked bags of trash and scraps of food from a drain near the synagogue where he works.

“The city has to do more to clean the streets,” he said. “It’s filthy.”

As the rain briefly slowed, residents emerged from their homes to survey the damage and begin draining the water that had reached the top of many basement doors. Some people arranged milk crates and wooden boards to cross the flooded sidewalks, with water close to waist-deep in the middle of some streets.

WATCH | The struggle to navigate NYC after flooding of subways, roads: 

New York streets swamped in flash floods

Heavy rain caused major problems in New York City on Friday. Water gushed into the subway system and snarled traffic as drivers navigated flooded streets.

High school student Malachi Clark stared at a flooded intersection, unsure how to proceed as he tried to get home to Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. He had tried to take a bus, then a train.

“When it stops the buses, you know it’s bad,” he said. Bus service was severely disrupted citywide, according to the the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

A Brooklyn school was evacuated because its boiler was smoking, possibly because water had gotten into it, Schools Chancellor David Banks said at the news briefing. Environmental Protection Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala said that more than six centimetres of rain fell in a single hour at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, overwhelming the surrounding drainage systems.

Elsewhere, photos and video posted on social media showed water pouring into subway stations and basements.

Coastal storm responsible for ‘wettest day’ in some time: meteorologist

Jessie Lawrence said she awoke to the sound of rain dripping from the ceiling of her fourth-floor apartment in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighbourhood. She set out a bowl to catch the drips, but she could hear strange sounds coming from outside her door.

“I opened my front door, and the water was coming in thicker and louder,” she said, noting it poured into the hallway and flowed down the stairs. The heavy rainfall had pooled atop the roof and was leaking through a skylight above the stairwell.

A sidewalk scene is shown with workers trying to stem flooding as residents watch on stoops.
Residents watch as workers attempt to clear a drain in flood waters on Friday in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Jake Offenhartz/The Associated Press)

Dominic Ramunni, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New York, said Friday’s rain was brought by a coastal storm, with low pressure off the East Coast helping to bring in some deep moisture from the Atlantic Ocean.

“This will be one of the wettest days in quite some time,” he said.

Flights at LaGuardia stopped, delayed

Virtually every subway line was at least partly suspended, rerouted or running with delays, and the Metro-North commuter railroad was suspended.

Flights into LaGuardia were briefly halted Friday morning, and then delayed, because of water in the airport’s refuelling area. Flooding also forced the closure of one of the airport’s three terminals.

WATCH l Canada has a patchwork of flood maps, but good luck finding them:

Better flood maps could save lives. Why are they so hard to find?

Flood risk maps help identify safe ground during a storm or flood and lay out where to avoid building, but they’re not readily available. CBC’s Tom Murphy breaks down why the maps are so hard to find.

Hoboken, N.J., and other cities and towns around New York City also experienced flooding.

The deluge came less than three months after a storm caused deadly floods in New York’s Hudson Valley and left Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, submerged. A little over two years ago, the remnants of Hurricane Ida dropped record-breaking rain on the Northeast and killed at least 13 people in New York City, most of whom were in flooded basement apartments. Overall, 50 people died from Virginia to Connecticut.

Governor urges people to evacuate flooding homes

New York City officials said they received reports of six basement apartments that had flooded, but all the occupants got out safely. Hochul pleaded with residents to evacuate their homes if the water starts to rise.

“People need to take this extremely seriously,” the governor said.

Hochul warned New Yorkers on Thursday night of a forecast that called for 5-7.5 centimetres of rain, with 13 centimetres or more possible in some places.

“We anticipate, we warn, we prepare. But then when it hits and you have five inches in the last 12 hours — three in the last hour this morning — that’s a scale that we’re not accustomed to dealing with,” the Democrat told TV station NY1 on Friday.

She said that New Yorkers “have to get used to this” because of climate change.

As the planet warms, storms are forming in a hotter atmosphere, making extreme rainfall more frequent, according to atmospheric scientists.

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