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Record rain, widespread floods overwhelm Arizona

Cindy Carcamo
Los Angeles Times

Tucson, Ariz – . — Record-breaking rainfall deluged parts of Arizona on Monday, prompting Gov. Jan Brewer to declare a state of emergency as floodwaters lead to at least two deaths, turned portions of a Phoenix interstate into a deep canal, and forced the closure of dozens of schools and the House of Representatives.

The remnants of Hurricane Norbert pushed into the desert Southwest and swamped Phoenix with record rainfall for a single day, turning freeways into small lakes and sending rescuers scrambling to get drivers out of inundated cars.

The flooding was caused by heavy thunderstorms and showers associated with Norbert after it was downgraded to a tropical depression.

In Tucson, a woman was killed after she was trapped inside a vehicle submerged in at least 15 feet of water in a wash, Tucson Fire Department Capt. Barrett Baker said. In addition, a 76-year-old woman drowned in floodwaters.

“The water was flowing tremendously fast,” he said.

The National Weather Service said Phoenix had set a record for the most rainfall in a single day with about 3 inches as of 7 a.m., breaking the old record of 2.91 inches set in 1933.

Monday's rainfall alone totaled more than the Phoenix area receives during a typical, three-month monsoon season of 2.71 inches, according to National Weather Service reports.

Brewer sent a disaster declaration request early Monday to the U.S. Small Business Administration, asking the federal agency to assist residents and businesses in Maricopa County in their recovery from last month's flash floods, which affected more than 350 homes.

Sections of Interstates 10 and 17 in west Phoenix were closed during the morning commute. A state Department of Public Safety officer used the roof of his SUV to carry three stranded motorists from a flooded area of I-10.

Cars and SUVs sat in water up to their hoods on the freeway, while dozens of motorists parked on its wide, banked borders to stay clear of the water.

Joseph Friend was driving onto the freeway at 43rd Avenue about 4:15 a.m. when a passing big rig ruined his day.

“A big tidal wave just came up and totally took me out, came over the hood of my truck,” Friend said.

With water filling his vehicle, he climbed out and walked up the freeway embankment to wait it out. His pickup truck was barely visible at the peak of the flooding.

After the highway was shut down, a woman on top of her car in the median called for help, so Friend waded out and led her to safety.

“She was asking for help and nobody went out there, so I went out there and helped her out,” Friend said. “I was already soaked anyway. “

By late morning, the water on I-10 had receded, allowing trucks to take away several dozen vehicles that had been swamped and stranded.

Storms also hit Nevada, where an Indian reservation was evacuated Monday and officials feared water could breach a dam after more than 4 inches of rain fell on the town of Moapa in a two-hour period.

Heavy rains were threatening to breach a dam on the Muddy River, which feeds the already swollen Virgin River. That could send water into homes in Moapa, northeast of Las Vegas.

Associated Press contributed.