An unexpected flooding disaster rapidly swept through the unprepared streets of Fort Lauderdale last week when a 1-in-1,000-year rainfall event hit Broward County on Apr. 19. The violent rainfall caused the county to declare a flash flood emergency—the highest level of flood warning. Depictions of the scene left in the wake of the flash flood show cars abandoned by drivers in the streets and civilians wading through the wreckage, with commenters in the media describing the deluge as a weather event of biblical proportions.
Rainfall recorded in the region came in at over 12 inches. Fort Lauderdale took the hardest hit, receiving an estimated 25 inches of rain in a single 24-hour period. The area has continued to receive spouts of rainfall since the initial event, worsening the burden the disaster is placing on critical infrastructure and civilians caught in its torrential midst. The event was further compounded by two tornadoes that hit Broward County that same day.
For reference, rainfall of 20 to 25 inches is similar to what the area is projected to receive during a high-category hurricane over a period longer than a day. During the height of the downpour, more rain fell in just an hour than would be expected in an entire month.
“Welcome to South Florida,” Steve Allen, a 60-year resident of Fort Lauderdale, told WLRN. “You’re the first person to even ask us if we need anything. The neighbors from round the corner came by in a big airboat buggy, picking people up and taking them out of the water. But that’s just about it—nobody else has even stopped.”
Other residents interviewed by WLRN also spoke about their experiences. They described houses flooded nearly to the ceiling, civilian-led evacuations attempting to bring sobbing children to safety, immobile elders rowed away by boat, pets and farm animals swept away in the chaos of the downpour and the permanent destruction of heirlooms and other meaningful items.
Some residents expressed outrage and frustration at the disaster, accusing the local and state government of being indifferent or negligent to their struggle and lacking a robust, person-focused response.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told reporters that he understood the frustrations of residents, but claimed that the city would deploy “boots on the ground” as soon as it could. So far, the city estimates that 900 residents were rescued during the peak of the storm. Two shelters have been opened for displaced residents, but permanent plans to address the needs of residents now made homeless have not been put into action.