Severe thunderstorms, heavy rain and flash flooding wreaked havoc across the Northeast over the weekend, killing five people in Pennsylvania, grounding flights at major airports in the New York metropolitan area and downing power lines. In one part of Long Island, five inches of rain fell in less than two hours.
“We’re in a very volatile weather situation,” said state Gov. Kathy Hochul, who warned of the dangers of driving under flash flood conditions. “Your car can go from safe to dead.”
The toll is the worst in Philadelphia’s northern suburbs at Washington’s Crossing, famous for where George Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776. On Saturday evening, 11 cars were inundated, three of which were washed away. .
A family visiting from Charleston, SC encountered severe flooding on Washington Crossing Road when they went to a barbecue, officials said.
At a news conference Sunday, Fire Chief Tim Brewer of nearby Upper Makefield Township said the family was trying to escape severe flooding, with the father hugging his 4-year-old son and the mother and grandmother holding on to both. Additional children aged 9 months and 2 years.
The father and son escaped safely, but the grandmother, mother and two children were swept away by the flood.
As of Sunday afternoon, Pennsylvania authorities were still searching for the two children, but officials said the mother was among the five dead. The grandmother survived and was treated at a local hospital.
“We’re treating this as a rescue mission, but we definitely believe we’re in rescue mode at this point,” Fire Chief Tim Brewer of Upper Makefield, Bucks County, said of the missing children.
He said six to seven inches of rain fell within 45 minutes. “In my 44 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “When the water came up, it came up really fast.”
Eli Weissman, 65, said he and his 22-year-old daughter were caught in the same deadly flood at Washington Crossing.
The two were going home on his BMW motorcycle when it suddenly started raining, he said.
“We were five miles from my house, so we’d go home without waiting,” said Mr. Wiseman said. As cars started stopping in front of them, it started raining, he said.
“Then this water came rushing down the road,” Mr. Wiseman said. “It was like a dam burst or something,” he added. “It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”
She said she and her daughter were thrown from the bike, which rapidly rose to a depth of about eight feet.
“We were floating down, trying to survive the rapids, you know, feet first, clinging to trees, clinging to vines, anything we could cling to,” said Mr. Wiseman said. “It was very fast and deep.”
All around them, cars were deserted, some of them overturned. At one point, Mr. Wiseman said, “I saw a mother get out of the car with her infant and walk away from the car.” He said he believed they were family members from Charleston.
After 15 minutes the water began to recede and she and her daughter were finally able to stand again, she said. They carefully made their way to the road and back to dry land, where his son took them.
“I’ve seen flooded roads, I’ve seen rushing water, but nothing like this,” he said.
Colleen Mortensen, 17, of Upper Makefield Township, said she was making a food drive to Colonial Market when the storm hit its peak Saturday evening.
Driving a Ford Expedition, he passed a car that had veered off the road and down a hill, with a broken front axle and a twisted wheel. Then he faced a flooded road.
In an interview at the Shell petrol station where he worked on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Mortensen said. As he left the market, emergency crews barricaded a major intersection as the river flowed down a hill eastward through the village to the river.
In all, authorities said eight people were rescued from cars in Bucks County, where Washington Crossing is located, and two from the creek.
Flash flooding in Pennsylvania on Saturday followed flooding across the Northeast on Sunday, with flash flood warnings in effect in some areas. Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maine and neighboring states. Five inches of rain fell on the east end of Long Island in less than two hours.
In New Jersey, Governor Bill Murphy declared a state of emergency Sunday afternoon. “Across the state, we’ve seen heavy rainfall resulting in hazardous conditions, and we’re asking people to be aware of flooded roads and around downed trees and power lines,” he said in a statement.
Pennsylvania’s governor, Josh Shapiro, said he was “concerned about some additional severe weather coming this evening,” and he urged Bucks County residents to be cautious and avoid flood-prone areas.
By late afternoon, emergency crews had reopened most roads in Bucks County, but the area remained closed as they searched for the missing children. Although most of the waterways had receded, their levels remained higher than usual, and some roadside embankments were still swollen with fast-flowing water.
Michael Adler, an attorney who lives in Holland, Pa., said the rain was still falling Sunday afternoon.
“We get these alerts on our phones,” he said. “Where we are now, we’re not near creeks, but I know there’s a lot of creeks and underground creeks in this area, so everybody’s a little worried.”
Patrick McKeehan Monmouth Beach, NJ, contributed reporting.