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Heavy rains, flash flooding submerge parts of Erie, Niagara counties

Western New York woke up Wednesday to many traffic delays and unpassable roads due to flash flooding and heavy rains in the overnight and early morning hours.

Several roadways saw closures or detours due to heavy rains, including the I-190, the intersection of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Maple Road in Amherst and the intersection of Elmwood and Hertel avenues in North Buffalo.

The weather service said 2 to 3 inches of rain fell overnight in northern Buffalo, Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. Flooding of roadways and residential basements were common in those areas.

Late Wednesday morning Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown told reporters that all roads in the city were open to traffic.

"We saw areas where water was inundated that we don’t normally see," said Michael Finn, commissioner of Buffalo's Department of Public Works, Parks and Streets. "I believe this was a pretty unprecedented event. There were areas outside the city" where unusual flooding was seen, "like Sheridan Drive, which was closed for a while."

Northeast Kenmore recorded a high of 2.91 inches of rainfall over a 24-hour period ending at 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Northern Amherst also saw over 2 inches in that period while North Tonawanda had more than 1.5.

The National Weather Service issued an area flood warning for Erie and Niagara counties until 10 a.m., which followed a flash flood warning issued overnight for most of the city and Northtowns that expired at 7 a.m.

Oluwole A. “OJ” McFoy, General Manager of the Buffalo Sewer Authority, said that its treatment facility saw 430 million gallons of water flowing through at the peak of the storm Wednesday morning; he said the facility's capacity is 560 million gallons per day.

The trouble spots in Buffalo were due to high water levels at viaducts and underpasses, especially in North Buffalo. Affected areas include Delaware and Linden, Hertel Avenue between Elmwood and Military, and the Ontario Street area.

A portion of Niagara Street near Ontario Street remained submerged at noon Wednesday, with two cars abandoned in waist-high water.

Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said in these type of storms that drivers need to refrain from pushing through areas with high water.

"If you can’t see the surface of the road, you shouldn’t drive on the roadway in a heavy storm, esp if you know you are going under a viaduct or overpass," Rinaldo said. "All it takes for is for your tailpipe to be completely submerged in water – your engine will shut off. The average tailpipe sits 6-12 inches off the ground, so with less than a foot of water, your car can basically die and now you are forced to be rescued from your vehicle.

"And now your vehicle now ties up that roadway which prevents the Department of Public Works, ambulances, fire and other vehicles that could get through there from being able to."

There are also various reports on social media of flooding on residential streets in the Northtowns.

The morning commute on Route 5 was also affected. Traffic was down to one lane on the Northbound side just before the ramp to the Skyway. A police car diverted traffic around a large flooded area of the road.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority announced that Metro buses were experiencing major delays as a result of the road closures and flooding.

Wednesday's forecast for the Buffalo area has likely showers and thunderstorms, mainly before noon, with some of the storms possibly producing heavy rain. The chance of precipitation was 70 percent, with new rainfall amounts ranging between 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch, with higher amounts possible from the thunderstorms. Forecasts call for cloudy skies gradually becoming mostly sunny, with a high near 81.

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