By FREIDA FRISARO, DANIEL KOZIN and TERRY SPENCER
One of Florida’s busiest airports reopened Friday morning, two days after an unprecedented deluge left planes and travelers stranded and turned Fort Lauderdale’s streets into rivers.
Officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport completed final inspections after sunrise Friday and resumed operations at 9 a.m.
In a tweet Friday morning, airport officials advised travelers to check with their airlines on updated flight schedules before going to the airport.
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The airport shut down Wednesday evening as a storm dumped more than 2 feet of rain.
“Nature has been unkind to us,” Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher said during a news conference Thursday afternoon at the airport.
Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said the region received “an unprecedented amount” of rain. The weather service was still confirming totals, but some gauges showed up to 25 inches of rainfall.
“For context, within a six-hour period, the amount that fell is about a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening within a given year,” Bhatti said. “So it’s a very historical type of event.”
All across Fort Lauderdale, residents and business owners cleaned up. While it started raining on Monday in South Florida, 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.
On Thursday, residents in the city’s Edgewood neighborhood waded through knee-high water or used canoes and kayaks to navigate the streets. Dennis Vasquez, a window screen installer, towed some of his neighbor’s belongings on an inflatable mattress to a car on dry land. He himself lost all of his possessions when water rose chest-high in his house Wednesday night.
“Everything, it’s gone,” he said in Spanish. “But I will replace it.”
Christopher Alfonso and Tony Mandico, neighbors for 50 years in Edgewood, said their homes are likely total losses.
They said the area never severely flooded until a sanitary sewer system replaced septic tanks 10 years ago, making some streets higher than others and channeling rain onto lower roads.
Airlines were forced to cancel more than 650 flights at the Fort Lauderdale airport on Thursday, according to FlightAware.com.
Southwest canceled about 50 departures through Friday morning, a spokesperson said. The airline is letting customers rebook on flights to and from Miami and Palm Beach at no additional charge, she said.
Frontier Airlines moved two flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami but canceled about 15 other round trips, a spokesperson said. Allegiant Air also canceled some flights and rerouted others to the Tampa, Orlando and Punta Gorda areas.
On Fort Lauderdale Beach, the three-day Tortuga Music Festival is set to kick 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.
One of them is Amber Borkoski of Baltimore, Maryland, who purchased festival tickets six months ago and had planned to travel to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday to celebrate her friend’s birthday.
On Wednesday night, her friend got caught up in the flash flooding while driving home from work in Fort Lauderdale.
“I started reaching out to the festival asking what the plan was first thing Thursday morning after I saw all the damage done to the city,” Borkoski said. Then Southwest canceled her Thursday night flight from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale, and festival officials told her that no refunds were available.
“All of the other airports I looked into, I would be spending more money to fly into them, but would not be able to get a rental car to get to Fort Lauderdale,” she said. So she canceled her trip.
Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest school district in the nation with more than 256,000 students, canceled classes Thursday and Friday after water inundated halls and classrooms in some schools.
The scene as floodwaters rose in the streets on Wednesday was chaotic, with abandoned cars “floating like boats,” tow truck driver Keith Hickman said.
“A truck would come by and the wake would push the cars into the other cars, and they were just floating,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”