Daylight footage showed devastation across Philadelphia on Thursday, where rivers overflowed and highways flooded after remnants of Hurricane Ida soaked the region overnight.
Water spilled out of the Schuylkill River and onto the Vine Street Expressway, a main thoroughfare of Center City, making the morning commute a soggy mess or impossibility for many.
City Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said his department is still in rescue mode and cleanup efforts are still a ways off.
“This is going to be a long cleanup and recovery process,” Thiel said. “This is truly a historic flooding, a historic event.”
Philadelphia public schools with 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. openings were delayed by two hours due to road conditions, the district announced.
With the ongoing threat of floods, all city buildings were ordered closed Thursday with employees told to work from home, officials said.
Public schools opened despite City Hall’s general call for Philadelphians to stay home.
“We consider ourselves an essential service,” said William Hite, superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia. “We thought it was important that schools stay open.”
And then hours later, the school district announced that all instruction on Friday would be done online.
Mayor Jim Kenney declined to second-guess the school district’s move to open classroom doors.
“I mean hindsight is always 20/20, but everyone seems to be safe,” Kenney said.
In the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County, there were at least three storm-related fatalities, Board of Commissioners Chair Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said. Details on the victims and how they died were not released. A fourth person died in Milford Township, Bucks County, when their vehicle was swept away in floodwaters, police reported.
Since 11 a.m. Wednesday, the county’s 911 system fielded more than 6,500 calls for help, which is three times a normal 24-hour period, Arkoosh said.
A record 2.37 inches of rain fell on downtown Philadelphia, 3.27 inches on North Philadelphia and between 6 inches and 8 inches in the outer suburbs.
But it was the speed and intensity of rainfall — in a compacted few hours after 5 p.m. Wednesday — that overwhelmed the Schuylkill River, streams and sewer systems.
The river crested at more than 16 feet near 30th Street early Thursday, well above what’s considered a major flood, at 15.5 feet, or moderate flood, at 13 feet.
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.
Kathryn Prociv is a senior meteorologist and producer for NBC News.