- Associated Press - Monday, August 15, 2011

NEW YORK — Two New York City construction workers barely escaped drowning in an elevator as storms dropped record rainfall over the weekend on parts of the nation’s Eastern half, washing out roads in New Jersey and closing a hospital in Ohio.

One of the workers, cabinetmaker Ed Tyler of Milltown, N.J., told the Associated Press on Monday that he and colleague Wendell Amaker of Roselle, N.J., were happy to be alive after their ordeal.

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

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

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

As rain drummed the borough around 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Mr. Tyler and Mr. Amaker were using an elevator to get supplies to a basement that, unknown to them, was filling up with floodwaters. After they got in, the doors would not open, though they pressed buttons in vain.

“We hit the water; we heard swishing,” Mr. Tyler said. Then the 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 cellular phones, one was wet and one 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, fire rescuers arrived, shut off power to the elevator and hoisted the men out through the ceiling hatch with a ladder.

“The firefighters told me to go home and take a shower, because the sewage pipes backed up and probably got mixed with the rainwater that came in,” Mr. Tyler said.

In southern New Jersey, a dam on Seeley Lake broke Sunday, turning the normally mild Cohansey River into a raging threat racing through downtown Bridgeton.

“These waters were going at least 20, 30 miles per hour,” said Martin Ruiz, a maintenance worker for a realty company who spent Monday checking on basements of rental properties in Bridgeton. “There were big logs going through there.”

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