South Florida floods: Businesses, residents begin cleaning up mess
While it started raining on Monday, much of the water fell Wednesday, and the Fort Lauderdale area saw record rainfall amounts in a matter of hours, ranging from 15 inches to 26 inches.
Workers at one of Fort Lauderdale’s landmark restaurants spent Friday tearing out carpeting and original hardwood floors, both ruined when 8 inches (0.25 meters) of water poured inside two days earlier.
Old Heidelberg was among numerous businesses and residences affected by historic rainfall in South Florida this week that caused widespread flooding, closing the state's international airport for nearly two days and turning streets into rivers.
While it started raining on Monday, much of the water fell Wednesday, and the Fort Lauderdale area saw record rainfall amounts in a matter of hours, ranging from 15 inches to 26 inches, the National Weather Service said.
Stephan and Yvonne Liebe said they had never experienced a flood like this since they bought Old Heidelberg 16 years ago, even during hurricanes and tropical storms. The German restaurant sits at the entrance to Fort Lauderdale’s Edgewood neighborhood, the city's hardest-hit area.
“It came through every door, even the emergency doors,” Yvonne Liebe said.
She said the inundation was made worse by the city’s decision not to close the main highway that runs in front and slightly above the restaurant; the passing traffic created waves that threw water into their building.
The Liebes have flood insurance — although they are anxious about how quickly they'll get compensated — and hope to reopen sometime next week.
By Friday, the water level in Edgewood had receded about a foot from the day before 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.
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.”
Hayden Wooster 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 evacuated a family with two disabled daughters.
“Grabbed them, grabbed their wheelchairs and got them to the hotel,” said Wooster, an attorney.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shut down Wednesday evening as the storm dumped more than 2 feet of rain. Airport officials completed final inspections after sunrise Friday and resumed operations at 9 a.m. By the afternoon, airport operations were slowly returning to normal, but the almost two-day closure was still affecting some passengers.
One of them was Michael Clement, a Baptist minister from Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Clement's congregation, which he has served for 40 years, paid for him and his wife, Ariel, to visit their son, a missionary, who lives with his wife and three children in Sao Gabriel, Brazil, a small town in that nation’s deep south.
They set out Thursday, flying Southwest to Denver in hopes of catching a flight from there to Fort Lauderdale, where they would board a Friday night flight to Brazil. When the flight to Fort Lauderdale was canceled, they flew to Orlando instead, then drove about 200 miles in a rental car to reach the airport.
That’s where Clement sat on the floor Friday playing sudoku 10 hours before his flight — after first taking a taxi into the city to get a COVID-19 test he didn’t know he needed to fly on Azul Airlines.
The headaches had to be endured; the connecting flight they will catch in Brazil to Sao Gabriel is only scheduled twice a week and the tickets can’t be exchanged.
“We just plodded through it. The airline, Southwest, treated us very well,” Clement said.
Airlines were forced to cancel more than 650 flights at the Fort Lauderdale airport on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com.
On Fort Lauderdale Beach, the three-day Tortuga Music Festival kicked 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.
Amber Borkoski of Baltimore, Maryland, purchased festival tickets six months ago and had planned to travel to Fort Lauderdale to celebrate her friend’s birthday. But Southwest canceled her Thursday night flight from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale, and festival officials told her that no refunds were available.
Borkoski said she understands that some things, such as weather events, are beyond the festival organizers' control, but added, "It's hard to swallow also losing money.”
Stephan Liebe, the Old Heidelberg owner, noted that the National Weather Service called this a 1-in-a-1,000-year storm.
“I could live with that – but can I get that in writing?” he joked.
Associated Press reporter Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.