At least five people are dead and two children remain missing after they were swept away by fast-rising floodwaters in Pennsylvania on Saturday, officials said.
“It’s very possible” there could be more victims, Bucks County Coroner Meredith Buck told the Bucks County Courier Times, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Two of the dead were found together in one area and the third was found in a separate location. All three were found outside their vehicles, Buck said. Officials are trying to sort out which vehicles belong to which victims as many drivers abandoned their cars in the water, which in some places rose to 5 feet above the roadway.
Search and rescue efforts are now focused on the missing 9-month-old boy and his 2-year-old sister, whose mother is among the five confirmed dead, Bucks County officials said Sunday night.
“We are all grieving, however, our commitment to find the two children is unwavering as we do all we can to bring them home to their loved ones,” Bucks County Fire Chief Tim Brewer said during a news update. “Our hearts do go out to the families. We are not going to give up regardless.”
Brewer also said a second woman was found dead Sunday about 100 yards from where the first victim was found.
For two hours, rain fell like a waterfall, which turned a creek into a raging rapid that swept away nearly a dozen cars and more than a dozen people in what officials described as a “new benchmark” for flash flooding in Upper Makefield.
“The flash flooding caught numerous motorists by surprise and many were trapped,” the Upper Makefield Police wrote in an online update Sunday.
Other parts of the East Coast were slammed with pounding rain, including hard-hit Vermont, which experienced days of flooding last week. On Sunday, Vermont officials were monitoring possible landslides.
“My team and I continue to monitor the situation as more rain falls in Vermont. There are flash flood warnings throughout the state today. Remain vigilant and be prepared,” Gov. Phil Scott said.
Sunday’s storms also led to hundreds of flight cancellations at airports in the New York City area, according to the tracking service FlightAware.
Parts of Connecticut, western Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire were under flash flood warnings and tornado watches, the National Weather Service said. A tornado warning was issued for an area along the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border.
Meanwhile, search and rescue efforts continued Sunday in an area that spans about 2 1/2 miles from the Delaware River back up to Houghs Creek, officials said.
Police were able to contact family of the missing by tracking them down through license plates of cars that were swept away, Brewer said at a media update Sunday morning at the Upper Makefield Township Building.
The mother and her two missing children were from Charlestown, South Carolina, but they were in the area visiting family and friends. The family had been on their way to a family cookout when they encountered the floodwaters.
The woman’s husband and her 4-year-old son were able to safely escape, Brewer said. The mother, her two children and the children’s grandmother were swept into the creek.
Buck confirmed the grandmother is alive but she lost her grip on her granddaughter while trying to help her daughter.
At least two of the confirmed dead were swept away after they got out of their vehicles, Brewer said. Another victim was in the vehicle. Brewer believes that the drivers were caught by surprise.
“We do not think anybody drove into it,” he said. “Within minutes the road went from passable to having 4 to 5 feet of raging water.”
Fire crews responding to a utility pole that was struck by lightning happened to be in the area as the heavy rains started and were able to start rescuing trapped vehicles, three of which firefighters saw swept away in the fast- moving water, Brewer said.
Eleven vehicles were trapped in the creek, he said.
As a witness to that, in my 44 years, I’ve never seen anything like it. When the water came up, it came up pretty quickly,” Brewer said. “We want the families of those who are lost to know they are in our hearts and we will work tirelessly until we locate the loved ones. We cannot imagine how difficult it has been at this time.”
More than 150 rescuers searched for people from the Delaware River to the flood site along Washington Crossing Road Saturday night. Eight people were rescued from cars and two from Houghs Creek, Brewer said. On Sunday morning, 100 rescuers were in the field, Brewer said.
Volunteers at Washington Crossing United Methodist Church were caring for victims and providing shelter.
Family pastor Shari Bonet described a scene she called “heartbreaking,” where people sat waiting for word on their missing family members − missing wives, missing children.
“This one guy I was praying with had been on the phone with his wife when her car got stuck, and she said the water was getting too high and she needed to get out. That was the last he heard from her. They found her phone with the car, but she was still missing,” Bonet said.
Others, she said, were flood survivors seeking refuge after abandoning their cars and wading through the high waters to safety.
“They came in and were soaked. We gave them coffee, dry clothes and blankets,” Bonet said.