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Widespread flooding submerges cars, causes major commute problems

Rene Rivera carries his wife, Melissa Hotsko, from their building at the Riverview Landing Apartments in Eagleville, West Norriton after the Schuylkill River flooded the building's garage and first-floor units. He decided not to wait for rescue boats to arrive. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer ) MAY 1 2014
Rene Rivera carries his wife, Melissa Hotsko, from their building at the Riverview Landing Apartments in Eagleville, West Norriton after the Schuylkill River flooded the building's garage and first-floor units. He decided not to wait for rescue boats to arrive. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer ) MAY 1 2014Read more

Rain that pounded the Philadelphia region last night and into this morning left widespread flooding that stranded motorists and caused the shutdown of major routes from the western suburbs to South Jersey.

Although flooding was expected, the swath of impact was unusually large: From Lumberton in Burlington County to Center City Philadelphia through to Norristown in Montgomery County - and just about everywhere in between. So much rain fell that the Schuylkill River crested higher than it did during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.

Extensive flooding persisted through early afternoon. Authorities were bracing for an extensive clean-up, and urginig people to stay away from the still-quick-moving streams and creeks.

After the rain stops, "we can get a false sense of security," Mayor Michael Nutter said.

The National Weather Service said around 5 inches fell in most parts of the area, with some places seeing a bit more, such as the 6.56 inches recorded in Spring City, Chester County.

(See how much rain fell in your area)

The weather service has repeatedly extended flood warnings, which are now in effect until 3:45 p.m. for southeastern Pennsylvania and until 6:15 p.m. for parts of New Jersey, including Burlington County. Authorities are warning that the flood situation is dangerous in many areas as motorists continued to underestimate the severity. Rescue crews were busy throughout the night rescuing stranded drivers.

Before midnight, 4.42 inches of rain had fallen at Philadelphia International Airport, setting the record for the date. That amount bested the previous record of 3.29 inches, set in 1947, according to the weather service.

Even though the flooding had started to recede by early morning, crews were still making saves.

Key roads such as Route 422 in Montgomery County and Route 130 in Camden County were impacted. The Schuylkill River was flooding in Philadelphia, also shutting down local roads, such as Kelly and Lincoln Drives. With nowhere to go, the water poured into Center City.

Nutter said early this afternoon that significant amounts of water remained on major roadways, including Kelly, Lincoln and Martin Luther King drives. The Streets Department has begun cleanup work on the roads, which will continue as the water recedes.

A stretch of Main Street in Manayunk was also closed. However, Manayunk Development Corporation officials said most businesses in the retail corridor didn't sustain major damage.

Possibly the worst Schuylkill flooding was near Norristown and East Norriton in Montgomery County. At Norristown, the river rose to 20.83 feet this morning, well above the flood stage there of 13 feet and higher than the crest of 19.76 recorded during Irene in 2011.

Multiple cars were reportedly stuck at Street and State roads in Bensalem, Bucks County. The intersection was closed as of 8 a.m. and was likely to remain so for a while.

Residents near the Schuylkill River's banks near Center City said the water moved rapidly overnight into streets, lots and parking garages. It took less than an hour for the bottom floor of a garage at 23rd and Arch streets to fill with water, residents said.

The timing was particularly bad in that area: High tide came around 3 a.m., just after some of the heaviest rain showers. The Schuylkill in Philadelphia crested at 13.91 feet, above the 11-foot flood stage and the peak of 13.56 feet during Irene.

Rebecca Abgott said she was grateful her car was assigned an upper-level spot as she watched the water rise overnight. Neighbors and security staff at the apartment building at 2200 Arch Street tried to warn those with bottom-level spots what was happening.

"I was thinking: Why don't you people answer your phones? Your cars are going underwater," Abgott said.

But it was the middle of the night, around 2 a.m., and many people didn't respond to phone calls or knocks on their doors. Cars on the bottom level of the garage were floating in the deep water, some with trunks popped open or windows blown out, Abgott said.

One man tried to move his truck as the water started to rise, she said, only to have the vehicle veer into even deeper water and get stuck.

Elevators in buildings in the area were shut down after the elevator shafts flooded. Some flooding was also reported in building lobbies.

Tow-truck company workers said the cars submerged in water were total losses. Residents said it was the worst flooding they've seen in the area.

"It's never been this bad," said Mark Gilbert, who has lived at 22nd and Arch for eight years.

Some of the local creeks flooding were: Brandywine, Perkiomen, Wissahickon, Crum, French, White and Red Clay in Pennsylvania. The Cooper River in Camden County was also impacted.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management said some residents in Lumberton and Medford were evacuated due to flooding along the Rancocas Creek.

The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania was operating multiple shelters for those whose homes were affected by the floods.

The commute:

Service on SEPTA's Manayunk/Norristown Regional Rail Line is only running between the University City and Miquon stations due to flooding.

Delays were also being reported on numerous other Regional Rail lines.

Check for the latest updates.

Although the Schuylkill Expressway appeared to be clear, many other roads had major problems this morning. Route 130 near the Airport Circle in Pennsauken was jammed. Traffic was at a crawl elsewhere.

The forecast:

Meteorologists were calling for scattered showers today before 4 p.m. After that, it will remain mostly cloudy with a high of 76.

The good news: Friday should be mostly sunny with a high of about 70. Saturday, which could have a slight chance of afternoon showers, should nonetheless turn out partly sunny with a high of 71.

Sunday should be mostly sunny, with a high near 69.