NEW YORK - More than a foot of rain hit parts of New York's Long Island on Wednesday, enough to set a preliminary state record, triggering flash floods and swamping cars on major roads that were turned into rivers during the morning rush hour.
Much of the rain fell during a particularly intense, two-hour burst while commuters were traveling to work.
A total of 13.26 inches (33 cm) of precipitation was measured at MacArthur Airport in Islip. That is believed to be the most to have ever fallen in any area of New York during a 24-hour period, said Christopher Vaccaro, spokesman for the National Weather Service.
The standing record of 11.6 inches (29 cm) was set in August 2011 near Tannersville in the Hudson Valley during Tropical Storm Irene.
"Wow, they had more than two months of rainfall in two hours," Vaccaro said.
"It's really quite a dangerous situation. Heavy rainfall coupled with the morning commute is a problem."
The stormy weather contributed to at least one fatality, when a tractor-trailer and a Jeep collided on the Long Island Expressway, killing the Jeep's driver at about 5 a.m. during heavy rains, the Suffolk County highway patrol said in a statement.
Parts of major commuter routes including the Long Island Expressway, the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway, the Sunrise Highway and other roadways were closed due to flooding, police said.
A parking lot at a train station in Bay Shore was covered with at least two feet (61 cm) of water. In areas of Long Island, cars were submerged up to their windows.
Fire boats were being deployed for rescue operations, according to National Weather Service reports.
Flooding also forced the closure of the Long Island Rail Road, the nation's largest commuter railroad, in both directions on a stretch near Port Jefferson, the transit agency said on its website.
The shutdown caused one-hour delays on other routes.
The downpour also hit states surrounding New York, including southeastern Connecticut, which received about 7 inches (18 cm) of rain by just after 8 a.m., and isolated parts of New Jersey, with about 2.5 inches (5 cm) by morning.
Residents of Millville in southern New Jersey were evacuated from homes that collapsed in the rains, American Red Cross spokeswoman Laura Steinmetz said.
Some 22 people living in the Vineland Housing Authority, also in Millville, were forced out of their homes due to sewage backup caused by flooding, Steinmetz said.
Flash flood warnings for Long Island were lifted in the morning, but the warnings remained in effect in southeastern Connecticut as the rainfall travelled to the northeast, Vaccaro said.
The weather system was the same one that drenched Washington and Baltimore on Tuesday, Vaccaro said.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Bill Trott and Andrew Hay)