Five Dead in Flash Flooding in Philadelphia Suburbs

At least five people were dead and two others remained missing on Sunday after severe floods swept through areas of Pennsylvania and storms continued to threaten much of the Northeast.

In a news conference, Tim Brewer, the fire chief of Upper Makefield in the suburbs north of Philadelphia, said that 11 vehicles were trapped late Saturday afternoon by rising waters on the flooded Washington Crossing Road.

“The flash flood occurred some time after that,” Mr. Brewer said. “We believe approximately 11 cars were on the road. Three were confirmed swept away.”

Washington Crossing, with a population of less than 5,000, draws tourists year-round to the place where George Washington crossed the Delaware River for a pivotal Revolutionary War battle in December 1776.

On Saturday, eight people were rescued from the cars, and two were rescued from Houghs Creek.

“We are treating this as a rescue, but we are fairly certain we are in recovery mode at this time,” Mr. Brewer said of the missing people.

Heavy rain was falling across the Northeast on Sunday, with flash flood warnings in effect in parts of Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maine and neighboring states. An estimated five inches of rain fell in less than two hours on the east end of Long Island, with up to two inches of rain forecast for Sunday afternoon throughout the New York metropolitan area.

“We are in a very, very unstable weather condition,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, warning of the danger of flash flooding. Within moments, she said, “your car can go from a place of safety to a place of death.”

Thunderstorms caused flight disruptions on Sunday at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Kennedy International Airport in New York. In Maryland, officials said that “life-threatening flash flooding” was expected.

The deluge in Pennsylvania on Saturday began at around 5 p.m. and quickly overwhelmed storm sewers, brooks and streams. An estimated six to seven inches of rain fell in less than 45 minutes, Mr. Brewer said.

“In my 44 years, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “When the water came up, it came up very swiftly.”

Parts of the Delaware Canal, which runs alongside the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, spilled over, causing flooding on Route 29 in New Jersey.

Collin Mortensen, 17, of Upper Makefield, said he was making a food run to Colonial Market when the storm started to peak on Saturday evening.

Driving a Ford Expedition, he said, he passed a car that had slid off the road and down a hill, its front axle broken and a wheel twisted. Then he encountered the flooded road.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through,” Mr. Mortensen said in an interview at the Shell gasoline station where he was working on Sunday afternoon. When he left the market, he said, emergency crews were blocking off a main intersection as a river of water headed down a hill and east through the village, toward the river.

Mr. Brewer said on Sunday that he had always thought that Hurricane Ida, the deadly hurricane in 2021, was “the benchmark” for severe weather in the area.

“This is the new benchmark,” he said.

He declined to give the names of those who had died, but confirmed that five adults had died.

As of Sunday afternoon, emergency workers said that they were still searching for two children from the same family, a 9-month-old boy and a 2-year-old girl.

And the rainfall was not over just yet, with the National Weather Service reporting on Sunday morning that heavy rainfall and flash flooding “remains a concern” for areas in southeastern Pennsylvania. More rainfall and storms were expected to continue throughout the day. A flash flood warning remained in effect for several counties as of Sunday morning.

Michael Adler, a lawyer who lives in Holland, Pa., said he was driving home from dinner with his family on Saturday when the flash floods hit.

“I’ve never seen roads that flooded that quickly,” Mr. Adler said in a telephone interview. “It just happened so quickly. It was like six inches of rain in literally 20 minutes.”

Mr. Adler said he had driven home cautiously and that, luckily, in his area of Bucks County, the water was not as deep as the five feet recorded in parts of Upper Makefield Township, so the family had arrived home safely.

As of Sunday afternoon, it was still raining heavily in Holland.

“We’re getting all these alerts on our phones,” Mr. Adler said. “Where we are right now, we’re not near creeks, but I know that there are lots of creeks and underground creeks in this area, so everybody’s a little concerned.”

This new bout of flooding comes just days after a powerful two-day, record-breaking storm devastated parts of Vermont and upstate New York last week, damaging thousands of homes and businesses and causing at least one death in each state.

Storms, fires and floods are becoming more frequent and more severe as a result of a warming climate, experts say. Warmer temperatures allow air to hold more moisture, leading to more intense rainfall and flooding.

Patrick McGeehan in Monmouth Beach, N.J., contributed reporting.

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