RALEIGH, N.C. – Torrential downpours from a faded tropical storm marched into New England after claiming five lives, washing out roads and dousing some East Coast cities with more rain in hours than they normally get in months.
The massive rainstorm drove up the Eastern Seaboard from the Carolinas to Maine on Thursday, the worst of it falling in North Carolina where Jacksonville took on 12 inches in six hours — nearly a quarter of its typical annual rainfall.
Four people, including two children, were killed when their sport utility vehicle skidded off a rain-slicked highway about 145 miles east of Raleigh and plunged into a water-filled ditch, North Carolina troopers said. A fifth victim likely drowned when his pickup veered off the road and into a river that was raging because of the rain.
Forecasters warned of the danger of flash floods as rain drove across the densely populated East Coast cities with buffeting winds on a drive to New England. The Friday morning rush hour could be a challenge.
In Walpole, N.H., Erin Bickford said the deluge was a welcome sight for her eight acres of vegetables. "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," she said.
After a mostly dry summer around the Northeast, the fall storm provided inches of much-needed rain.
Forecasters said much of the rain would continue its advance across New England during the day, though it likley won't be the deluge that hit North Carolina.
Meteorologist Tim Armstrong with the National Weather Service in Wilmington declared the 22.54 inches to be the rainiest five-day period there that he could find on record since 1871. It easily beat Hurricane Floyd's 19.06 inches in 1999.
"We've measured the last drop of rain in our bucket for this event," Armstrong said. "I went through Floyd also and I thought I knew what rain was. Then I went through this."
He marveled at how a wet week changed everything: "We were praying for rain and we slipped into a moderate drought last week. It all turned around in a hurry."
As skies cleared over Wilmington, heavy rain pushed through the Mid-Atlantic, New York City, eastern Pennsylvania and beyond.
Forecasts said a large high pressure system over Canada was expected to push the storm further offshore and likely spare New England the kind of extreme rainfall that flooded roads and homes.
Sheila Mezroud said sandbags kept floodwaters out of her Carolina Beach home for only a short time. "I have to walk through an inch of water to get from the living room to the bathroom," she said.
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.
But the rain caused several other wrecks Thursday, including a crash between two transit buses in Maryland that left 26 people injured. Standing waters and fallen limbs on tracks slowed several Amtrak trains, while some Northeast airports reported flight delays of up to three hours. Parts of Virginia had 7 inches.
Forecasts called for cooler, drier air in many areas once the storm passed.
Foreman reported from Raleigh. Associated Press writers Sandy Kozel in Washington; Jim Fitzgerald, Deepti Hajela and Frank Eltman in New York; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C.; Ben Nuckols in Baltimore; and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.