- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Heavy monsoon season rains that swept across Arizona on Tuesday led to dramatic rescues, road closures and flight delays as a series of fast-moving storms pummeled the state.

A helicopter crew rescued two women and three dogs from a home surrounded by swift-moving waters in a town about 30 miles north of Phoenix, while elsewhere a small trailer park was evacuated, a school was flooded and first-responders pulled motorists from partially submerged vehicles.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for much of the metro area and north of the city where up to 8 inches of rain fell by midday in some of the mountainous regions along Interstate 17, the main north-south freeway in Arizona.

A river of muddy water rushed down I-17 about 25 miles north of Phoenix as motorists changed lanes to avoid the deluge. In another dramatic rescue, authorities pulled an elderly woman from a van stuck in rushing floodwaters, scenes repeated across the region throughout the day as motorists became trapped while driving through typically dry desert washes.

Gov. Jan Brewer said her office was monitoring the effects of the storm and will take additional action if needed. She said she had been glued to the TV all day watching the rescues.

“It looked absolutely devastating,” Brewer said. “For the last 10, 15 years, we’ve never seen anything the likes of this.”

Officials said nearly 5 inches of rain fell around the town of New River, where a helicopter dropped two rescuers onto the roof of a home after one had been waving a white piece of fabric from a window to draw attention. The rescuers later walked the women and dogs to safety as the water receded.

That’s more rain than that area saw during all of last summer’s monsoon season, said meteorologist Gary Woodall of the National Weather Service.

A roughly 15-mile stretch of northbound I-17 was reopened later Tuesday after authorities were forced to reroute vehicles for several hours into the southbound lanes sending them back to Phoenix because of floodwaters.

“It looks like the heavy rain is pulling out to the east and northeast out of that area,” Woodall said Tuesday afternoon. “But with all the rain that fell this morning, we’re going to see continued flooding, continued runoff probably into the early evening.”

Kathy Mascaro said her typical 15-minute commute from home to work in the Phoenix area more than doubled because of the traffic nightmares caused by the flooding.

“It’s crazy. You’d think, how could the desert flood, but it really does,” Mascaro said. “I’ve never seen it this bad. I’ve been here over 20 years and it has never flooded this bad.”

The Cox Cactus Farm in Phoenix was inundated by a nearby creek as rushing waters sent workers scrambling to save their plants.

“Everything just washed away,” employee Mitch Bell said.

The desert around Phoenix sees very little rain most of the year, so when storms roll through with such intensity as they did Tuesday, the water has nowhere to go.

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