When Andreas Schreiner heard the sound of manholes being pushed up by water outside his Sunset Harbour condo, he knew he had to run downstairs.
“It sounded like churchbells,” he later said.
In brief but heavy rain, he ran to Pubbelly, the restaurant he owns at the corner of Purdy Avenue and 20th Street, and saw water gushing from the floor drains near tables outside.
Within minutes, water had pooled on the sidewalk, which lies a 2 1/2 feet below the roadway — a street re-engineered to prevent flooding during high tides and storms. Then it sloshed into his restaurant.
A thunderstorm that rolled in at high tide Monday night caused flash floods that inundated roads and sidewalks here and in other parts of South Beach, creating scenes that harkened back to the years before extensive drainage improvements when water rose amid heavy rainfall and higher-than-expected tides.
New drainage systems seemed overwhelmed Monday, fueling concerns about how Miami Beach would deal with the effects of Hurricane Matthew. Miami-Dade’s beach communities are under a tropical storm warning, with Golden Beach just within the boundary of a hurricane warning.
In South Beach, water entered businesses, flooding restaurants and shops. At a Sunset Harbour wine and spirits shop on Tuesday, cases of pinot grigio on the ground showed several inches of water had pooled.
Farther south on Purdy Avenue, inside Italian restaurant Sardinia, water surged past servers’ ankles during the storm. Even the money in the restaurant safe was soaked.
“I was ironing the cash this morning,” said Liliana Baena, Sardinia’s accountant and office manager.
On Tuesday, Public Works Director Eric Carpenter sent a memo to Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales saying the flooding occurred after a series of unfortunate coincidences. Construction at one pump station at Maurice Gibb Park forced the closing of an outfall valve. At the pump station in front of the Publix on 20th Street, a faulty pump was out for repairs when the rain fell.
“As a result the area where the flooding occurred, which recently has received a drainage improvement to have water drawn down by six pumps in three pump stations, only had one pump functioning [Monday] night,” Carpenter wrote.
He added that someone had activated the emergency shutoff at the pump at 10th Street and West Avenue off, cutting off power to the pump while water pooled.
Tuesday afternoon, crews were working at pump stations in Sunset Harbour to ensure all six pumps were working before the hurricane arrives.
But in other parts of the island along Alton Road, Collins Avenue and in the Flamingo Park neighborhood, the one-two punch of high tide and heavy rain gave locals a preview of what could happen when Matthew’s rains pass over Miami Beach.
Chuck Tear, the city’s emergency management director, said the city is paying additional attention to Mid-Beach and North Beach, areas that haven’t had the kinds of upgrades Sunset Harbor has. He said that’s more out of caution than concern.
“The areas that haven’t gone through a lot of improvement lately, [Public Works] is paying attention only because they want to make sure [storm drains] are as efficient as they can be,” he said.
Morales said in a memo to commissioners that in advance of the hurricane, generators were being placed at pumps, temporary pumps were being deployed and security is planned to make sure no one turns off the pumps.
The city’s stormwater system, even with anti-flooding upgrades, is designed to withstand typical storms or high tides — but not major hurricanes.
“Keep in mind that the windstorms will generate higher tides than normal and could dump significant rain in a short period of time,” Morales wrote. “There will be flooding; the question will be how significant and how quickly it will drain.”
The Beach is bracing for anticipated tropical storm force-winds and rains from Hurricane Matthew that is churning over the Bahamas on Wednesday. Stores were running out of bottled water by Tuesday afternoon. Gas stations were running low.
All city-owned parking garages will be open for residents to park their cars starting at noon Wednesday.
Beginning at sunset Wednesday, access via the dunes to the beaches in Miami Beach will be closed. City-run trolleys will stop running once winds reach 35 mph. City pools, tennis centers and recreation centers will close at 6 p.m.
Temporary pumps are being stationed at Sunset Harbour, Indian Creek Drive, Palm and Hibiscus Islands, the Venetian Islands and on Bay Road near Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Back at Pubbelly on Tuesday, after the floors were dried, Schreiner said the infrastructure needs to be 100 percent operational to handle as much water as it can. Monday night’s scare was enough to worry him.
“I was scared,” he said. “I was worried about losing the restaurant.”
Miami Herald staff writers David Smiley and Ariana Figueroa contributed to this report.