Driver Swims Out of Car Trapped in Flash Flood After Damaging Riverside Rainstorm

The storm hammered Riverside with an hourlong downpour and wind that snapped tree limbs

A morning commuter rolled down his windows to escape his car early Friday after it was trapped in floodwaters left behind by a an hourlong downpour that hammered Riverside and San Bernardino counties, snapping tree limbs and sending mud and debris through streets.

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Flash flood watches are expected to go into effect again Friday morning for inland areas, but showers and thunderstorms will be isolated to mountain and desert areas.

"The good news is that portions of Riverside and San Bernardino counties that saw all that rain yesterday will get a break," said NBC4 forecaster Elita Loresca.

The clear start to Friday comes after a brief, but intense, rainstorm caused flooding and debris flows. The downpour left 5 feet of water under a 91 Freeway overpass in Riverside, catching a morning commuter by surprise.

"It just carried me -- all the way to the middle," said driver Gary Quesada. "I put the windows down so I could climb out."

His stalled car -- containing a water-logged sandwich, Bible and other items -- was submerged to the roofline. A tow truck company worker waded into the water to attach a cable to the vehicle before the crew towed the Honda sedan out Friday morning.

Water gushed from the car after Quesada opened the passenger's side door.

"The lunch didn't make it, but the coffee still looks good," Quesada said. "And, I made it, so I'll just get another car."

Intense rainfall occurred on 14th Street and University Avenue, where standing water prevented drivers from crossing intersections.  By 8 p.m., crews had removed water on University, just below the Riverside Freeway, but 14th was still closed Thursday night.

Water and mud damage occurred in two homes on Sunnyside Drive, just off the Riverside Freeway at Arlington Avenue, according to the Riverside Fire Department. One home was damaged by mud and debris that spilled over from a nearby canal.

The downpours began at about 3 p.m. Thursday and continued for about an hour. The storm also brought strong winds that snapped tree limbs and damaged power lines, leaving some customers without power.

Badgett expected power would be fully restored Friday morning. The outages affected about 1,000 customers.

"We had the equivalent of a 200-year flood in one hour,'' Riverside Public Utilities Deputy Director Steve Badgett told City News Service. "It rained hard for a solid hour. We recorded nearly 1.5 inches of rain in the heart of the city."

National Weather Service forecasters reported winds in excess of 60 mph.

In Needles, about 200 miles east of Riverside, swift-water rescue crews responded to a pickup driver trapped in rising floodwaters north of Interstate 40. The truck was stranded in a 100-foot-wide flood area with water moving at about 15 mph.

The specially trained team rescued the man from the vehicle. No injuries were reported.

The inland region has been engulfed in a tropical air mass this week, pulling  moisture from the south and east into the southwestern United States. The chance of showers and thunderstorms will increase through the morning hours Friday.

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