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Drenching rains flood highways, trap motorists

A number of water rescues have been reported as motorists get stuck in high water.

A vehicle sits in flood waters from Darby Creek on Springfield Road in Darby.
A vehicle sits in flood waters from Darby Creek on Springfield Road in Darby.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Torrential rainfall on Monday flooded roads and highways around the Philadelphia area, trapping dozens of motorists in high water and prompting officials to evacuate residents from homes where creeks had overrun their banks.

An Upper Darby police officer was taken a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries after he was sucked into an open manhole by powerful floodwaters. He was pulled to safety by a township worker, the police department said.

The region could be in for yet more water woe: Late Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Schuylkill until late Tuesday or if conditions change. Minor flooding was expected, with the most likely impact occurring on Main Street in Manayunk. And Tuesday's forecast calls for more rain.

Major highways that shut down due to Monday's flooding included I-76 at Route 202 in King of Prussia, the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Valley Forge and Norristown, and Route 422 in Upper Merion.

Flooding also hit the first floor of the King of Prussia Mall, closing 55 stores.

In Darby Borough, officials declared a state of emergency and hundreds of residents along the Darby Creek were evacuated from their homes. As of early evening, that was one of the only areas in Delaware County where water had not yet subsided.

In Moorestown, Burlington County, flooding was reported along Main Street and Route 38, with the National Weather Service saying an inch of rain fell in a half-hour. Some smaller streets such as Locust Street were blocked off.

High water halted RiverLine light rail service in Camden between the Walter Rand Transportation Center and the waterfront.

Though a flood watch had been issued overnight by the National Weather Service, the intensity and sporadic nature of the downpours caught many off guard. Ray Kruzdlo, senior hydrologist at the weather agency's Mount Holly office, said the storms moved very slowly and would "keep regenerating over the same locations," leading to the heavy rainfall.

Earlier Monday, dozens of people were rescued from vehicles trapped in water, with 49 rescues reported in Chester County. In Montgomery County, officials said they responded to 39 water rescues, 51 vehicle accidents, and 48 disabled vehicles.

In Upper Darby, police said citizens and first responders made a number of rescues during the flash floods.

"We have heard many instances of citizens rescuing citizens," Upper Darby police tweeted. "One gentleman tied some bed sheets together and tied it off to a railing to help rescue those stranded on Marshall Road. Another gentleman rescued a baby from a vehicle but he quickly left so we could not get his name."

The injured officer was going to rescue a citizen in a car when he was sucked into a manhole after the cover was forced off from the pressure underneath, a police spokesperson said.

"Although underwater and almost sucked in, a township employee grabbed him before it was too late," the spokesperson said.

Eric Flood, 32, of Upper Darby, went to sleep after an overnight work shift and the streets were quiet.

"I woke up and it was all water," said Flood, who recorded what he witnessed to Facebook Live.

Upper Darby wasn't the only Delaware County town to take a beating on Monday. The county saw flash flooding that followed "the natural path of the water," beginning in Radnor, then Haverford, and finally in Upper Darby and Darby Borough, said Timothy Boyce, Delaware County's emergency services director.

Boyce said no significant injuries were reported. But dozens of water rescues, maybe as many as 100, occurred throughout the county, he said.

"It's very tempting to drive through this water," Boyce said. "We really respect the power of the water [and] how fast it can rise."

In Montgomery County, rising water from Indian Creek flooded ground-floor apartments in the Willowbrook complex in West Norriton and left roadways covered with mud.

About two dozen residents were evacuated from the complex, said Jason Bobst, West Norriton's emergency management coordinator and township manager.

"Rain came so heavy, so violent, so fast and furious, that I think the complex, though it has a good drainage system, couldn't even accommodate that amount of water coming down the stream, off the golf course, off of the hill behind us, sloping down," said Rob French, 75, a Willowbrook resident for 15 years.

The National Weather Service said a trained spotter reported that 4.1 inches of rain fell in Wayne, Delaware County.

Flooding disrupted service on SEPTA's Norristown High Speed Line, Market-Frankford Line, and Route 102 trolley, the agency said.

>> READ MORE: Philadelphia is getting hotter, wetter, and snowier at the same time

At the King of Prussia Mall, workers on cleanup duty got some stores reopened, but the day was ruined for Denise Tyrell and her grandchildren.

"I've got three little girls waiting over there for Build-a-Bear," said Tyrell, who brought them to the mall for what she hoped would be a good rainy-day activity.

Now she had to tell the girls that the the popular stuffed-animal workshop was closed.

Kruzdlo, of the National Weather Service, said scattered showers were expected in the region on Tuesday, though nothing like Monday's drenchers.

Staff writer Robert Moran contributed to this article.