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Record rains nearly drown pair trapped in N.Y. elevator

A deliveryman waded through a Hoboken, N.J., street Sunday. Seabrook Farms, N.J., had nearly 11 inches of rain, while New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport got nearly 8 inches. A deliveryman waded through a Hoboken, N.J., street Sunday. Seabrook Farms, N.J., had nearly 11 inches of rain, while New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport got nearly 8 inches. (Andrew Miller/ The Jersey Journal via Associated Press)
Associated Press / August 16, 2011

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NEW YORK - Two New York City construction workers barely escaped drowning in an elevator Sunday as storms dropped record rains over the weekend on parts of the nation’s Eastern half, washing out roads in New Jersey and forcing a small hospital in Ohio to move patients.

One of the workers, cabinetmaker Ed Tyler, of Milltown, N.J., said yesterday that he and colleague Wendell Amaker, of Roselle, N.J., were happy to be alive after their ordeal.

Sunday’s storm dropped nearly 8 inches of rain on John F. Kennedy International Airport and nearly 5 in Philadelphia, setting city records for any day. At Seabrook Farms, N.J., the daily total was nearly 11 inches.

In most spots, the effects were bad but not disastrous - sometimes narrowly so, like on New York City’s Staten Island, where Tyler and Amaker were moving materials for a senior center being built.

As rain drummed the borough around 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Tyler and Amaker were using an elevator to get supplies to a basement that, unknown to them, was filling up with flood water.

After they got in, the doors would not open, though they pressed buttons in vain.

“We hit the water; we heard swishing,’’ Tyler said. Then water started pouring in.

“I was freaked out - the water was almost chest-high,’’ he said. They feared electrocution and jumped into a rubberized utility cart they had with them.

Of their two cellphones, one was wet and the other had no signal. Finally, they decided to break open a ceiling emergency hatch.

Almost an hour after they were trapped, one cellphone suddenly caught a signal and they called 911.

In a few minutes, firefighters arrived, shut off power to the elevator, and hoisted the men out.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported from the record-breaking cloudbursts, but the region wasn’t out of the woods yesterday. Flood watches were in effect through the evening as far north as Rhode Island.

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