Phoenix firefighters make several water rescues in record rainfall
Much of Arizona is under a flash-flood watch
By Paul Davenport
The Associated Press
PHOENIX — 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.
AP writer Alina Hartounian contributed to this report.