Florida floods: Airport reopens as residents clean up mess
Fort Lauderdale's airport reopened Friday morning, two days after an unprecedented deluge left planes and travelers stranded, as residents in the city's hardest hit neighborhoods began the slow process of cleaning up the mess left behind.
Officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport completed final inspections after sunrise Friday and resumed operations at 9 a.m.
The airport shut down Wednesday evening as a storm dumped more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain.
"Nature has been unkind to us," Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher said during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the airport.
While it started raining on Monday in South Florida, much of the water fell Wednesday, and the Fort Lauderdale area saw record rainfall amounts in a matter of hours, ranging from 15 inches (38 centimeters) to 26 inches (66 centimeters).
In Fort Lauderdale's Edgewood neighborhood on Friday morning, the water level had receded about a foot from Thursday but was still up to 2 feet (.6 meters) deep in some spots as residents tried to clean up.
Newlywed Tatiana Rodriguez pointed to the spot a foot above the floor where the water rose inside the one-room rental she shares with her husband, Joseph. The patio they share with other boarders and use to enter their home remained underwater, and trash from throughout the neighborhood collected there.
Tatiana, a hotel worker from Colombia, and her husband, a restaurant kitchen assistant from New York, have no electricity to power their air conditioning, small microwave or tiny refrigerator.
The bridal tiara from their marriage last month is still hanging on the headboard of their bed. When the water started gushing into their home Wednesday night, they went outside and found foot-high cinder blocks that they used to prop the bed up.
"The only thing we think about is, 'Save the bed,' because if we don't have the bed we will have to leave," Tatiana Rodriguez said as she swept debris. "We are lucky because we can stay."
Nearby, yacht deckhand Sawyer Canale trudged through the water with his two South African houseguests, Fran Human and Dominic Linda.
Canale, who moved to Edgewood last week, said he was lucky because his house sits on a tiny hill, keeping the water inches from seeping inside. But the trio was surrounded on all sides by flooding.
"I can't complain—all of my stuff is dry," Canale said. "But everything around us is wet."
"It is not the vacation we expected," Human deadpanned.
Hayden Wooster has spent two days driving Edgewood's streets in his large pickup truck, helping people get to and from their homes. He said he was able to help two people with medical devices leave their home after firefighters in a small boat couldn't, and also helped a family with two disabled daughters to evacuate.
"Grabbed them, grabbed their wheelchairs and got them to the hotel," said Wooster, an attorney.
Airlines were forced to cancel more than 650 flights at the Fort Lauderdale airport on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com.
Southwest canceled about 50 departures through Friday morning, a spokesperson said. The airline is letting customers rebook on flights to and from Miami and Palm Beach at no additional charge, she said.
Frontier Airlines moved two flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami but canceled about 15 other round trips, a spokesperson said. Allegiant Air also canceled some flights and rerouted others to the Tampa, Orlando and Punta Gorda areas.
On Fort Lauderdale Beach, the three-day Tortuga Music Festival kicks off Friday afternoon, headlined by Eric Church, Kenny Chesney, Jake Owen and Shania Twain. The "rain or shine" event left many ticketholders out of luck once the airport closed.
One of them is Amber Borkoski of Baltimore, Maryland, who purchased festival tickets six months ago and had planned to travel to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday to celebrate her friend's birthday.
On Wednesday night, her friend got caught up in the flash flooding while driving home from work in Fort Lauderdale.
"I started reaching out to the festival asking what the plan was first thing Thursday morning after I saw all the damage done to the city," Borkoski said. Then Southwest canceled her Thursday night flight from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale, and festival officials told her that no refunds were available.
"All of the other airports I looked into, I would be spending more money to fly into them, but would not be able to get a rental car to get to Fort Lauderdale," she said. So she canceled her trip.
While she said she understands that some things, such as weather events, are beyond the festival organizer's control, "it's hard to swallow also losing money."
Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest school district in the nation with more than 256,000 students, canceled classes Thursday and Friday after water inundated halls and classrooms in some schools.
Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the region received "an unprecedented amount" of rain. The weather service was still confirming totals, but some gauges showed up to 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) of rainfall.
"For context, within a six-hour period, the amount that fell is about a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening within a given year," Bhatti said. "So it's a very historical type of event."
© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.