Record rains trap workers in flooded NYC elevator

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

By VERENA DOBNIK and GEOFF MULVIHILL
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Two New York City construction workers barely escaped drowning in an elevator as storms dropped record rains over the weekend on parts of the nation's eastern half, washing out roads in New Jersey and forcing a small hospital in Ohio to move patients.

One of the workers, cabinetmaker Ed Tyler, of Milltown, N.J., told The Associated Press on Monday that he and colleague Wendell Amaker, of Roselle, N.J., were happy to be alive after their ordeal.

The storm dropped nearly 8 inches of rain on New York City's Kennedy Airport on Sunday and nearly 5 in Philadelphia, setting city records for any day. At Seabrook Farms, N.J., the daily total was nearly 11 inches.

In most spots, the effects were bad but not disastrous - sometimes narrowly so, like on New York City's Staten Island, where Tyler and Amaker were moving materials for a senior center being built.

As rain drummed the borough around 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Tyler and Amaker were using an elevator to get supplies to a basement that, unknown to them, was filling up with floodwaters.

After they got in, the doors would not open, though they pressed buttons in vain.

"We hit the water; we heard swishing," Tyler said. Then the water started pouring in.

"I was freaked out - the water was almost chest-high," he said. They feared electrocution and jumped into a rubberized utility cart they had with them.

Of their two cell phones, one was wet and one had no signal. Finally, they decided to break open a ceiling emergency hatch.

Almost an hour after they became trapped, one cell phone suddenly caught a signal and they called 911.

In a few minutes, fire rescuers arrived, shut off power to the elevator and hoisted the men out through the ceiling hatch with a ladder.

"The firefighters told me to go home and take a shower, because the sewage pipes backed up and probably got mixed with the rainwater that came in," Tyler said.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported from the record-breaking cloudbursts, but the region wasn't out of the woods by Monday evening. Flood watches remained in effect as far north as Rhode Island even as the rains moved out to sea.

The slow-moving system was the same one that toppled a stage with its winds Saturday at the Indiana State Fair, killing five people. Its lazy pace was what caused the exceptional rainfall amounts, said Dave Scheibe, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J.

In southern New Jersey, a dam on Seeley Lake broke Sunday, turning the normally mild Cohansey River into a raging threat racing through downtown Bridgeton.

"These waters were going at least 20, 30 miles per hour," said Martin Ruiz, a maintenance worker for a realty company who spent Monday checking on basements of rental properties in Bridgeton. "There were big logs going through there."

An apartment complex for senior citizens near the river was evacuated Sunday when it appeared the torrent might spill over to city streets, but the waters stayed a couple feet below the downtown flood walls.

Officials in Cumberland County reported four water rescues Sunday. But it could have been worse, said Joseph Sever, director of Cumberland County's Office of Emergency Management - the rain fell on the tidal rivers and streams in the region at a fortunate time.

"The tide was right," he said.

Amtrak lines were closed through Baltimore for a time Monday because water over the tracks.

Cleveland's 3.51 inches of rain broke a record for Aug. 14 that had been on the books since 1905, according to the National Weather Service. The deluge postponed an Indians baseball game and canceled a concert by pop star Selena Gomez.

In Port Clinton, Ohio, three of the six patients at Magruder Hospital were moved Sunday when water inundated a room holding the main power distribution panels. The other three were discharged.

The weekend rains collapsed a roof in Allentown, Pa., on Saturday night, The Morning Call newspaper reported. Thirteen people had to evacuate.

The downpours also washed out Sunday's final day of performances at the Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pa. The losses there included African drums for sale and more than 1,000 kabobs to be sold as a fundraiser for Hogar Crea house, which treats young addicts.

"Basically, we lost everything - the food, the equipment, everything," Ivan Delvalle, director of treatment at Hogar Crea, told The Morning Call. "The Musikfest fundraiser usually carries us through the winter. I'm not sure what we'll do."

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Mulvihill reported from Bridgeton, N.J. Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Trenton contributed to this report.

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Reach the reporters at http://twitter.com/VerenaChirps and http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill .

© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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