WILMINGTON, N.C. — Four people were killed Thursday when a vehicle skidded off a road that had been slicked by a massive rainstorm that drenched the East Coast, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said.
The storm flooded parts of coastal North Carolina, driving some people from their homes, and snarled train, air and car traffic in the Northeast. Tornado watches extended from the Outer Banks to New Jersey. State Highway Patrol Sgt. J.E. Brewer said five people were in the car that wrecked in Creswell, about 145 miles east of Raleigh. The car hit a patch of standing water, hydroplaned and skidded into a ditch, Brewer said.
The hardest rain fell in North Carolina, where Jacksonville picked up 12 inches of rain — nearly a quarter of its typical annual rainfall — in the six hours between 3:30 and 9:30 a.m.
The rain was part of a system moving ahead of the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, which dissipated over the Straits of Florida on Wednesday.
“This more like what you’d expect from a tropical system. But this is not a tropical system. It’s just a storm with a deep feed coming straight off the Atlantic,” said Hal Austin, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Newport, N.C., office.
Much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were starting to move into a drought after the dry summer. But the early fall storm spread several inches of rain across the region.
Farmers in northern New England rejoiced. Erin Bickford said the deluge should save her eight acres of vegetables and hopefully recharge wells that went dry in neighboring Walpole, N.H.
“We had almost no rain at all. Often, we could see it raining across the river, but it didn’t come here. It was just dust. Even if it did rain, it would be a tiny bit, maybe half an inch,” she said.
Crews throughout the northeast worked to pull fallen leaves from storm drains. Schools in North Carolina were closed and some farther north planned to cancel classes Friday so students wouldn’t have to travel on flooded roads.
Josh Barnello, 12, took advantage of his day off to take a look at a pond that overflowed its banks in Carolina Beach.
“Someone was paddling a canoe down the street earlier,” said Barnello, a budding meteorologist who used a wind speed gauge he got for Christmas to record gusts of 53 mph near his house.
Forecasters expected those heavy winds to spread up the coast, possibly toppling trees and power lines made unstable by the saturated ground.
The winds were also churning up big waves that were eating away at a “living shoreline” of rocks, sand and grasses built this year on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, said Bob Gilbert from his waterfront home in Churchton, about 10 miles south of Annapolis.
“There’s not a boat in sight,” Gilbert said. “The waves are really choppy and nasty-looking.”
The rain caused numerous accidents Thursday. In Maryland, authorities said 26 people, including high school students, were hurt after a Metro bus rear-ended another bus from the Washington-area transit system in pouring rain.
Standing waters and fallen limbs on tracks slowed several Amtrak trains, while some Northeast airports reported flight delays of up to three hours.
Wilmington, N.C., got a brief break from the rain Thursday morning, but the downpours quickly moved back in. Back-to-back storms have dropped a third of the rain the city usually gets all year in just five days. The 21 inches collected since Sunday was the highest five day total in nearly 140 years of records, topping Hurricane Floyd’s mark of 19 inches set in 1999, the National Weather Service said.
The rain caused some scatted evacuations across the state, but no major damage.
“I have to walk through an inch of water to get from the living room to the bathroom,” said Sheila Mezroud. Sandbags only kept the floodwaters out of her Carolina Beach home for a short time.
In New York City, the rain didn’t cause too many problems beyond wet shoes for the morning commute.
“I think we’re expecting pretty bad weather later on,” said Allen Saunders, a financial adviser who travels to Manhattan from Melville. I’ll probably leave work a little early.”
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