By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A major storm packing heavy rains pounded the Phoenix area early on Monday, forcing schools to cancel classes and closing roads including sections of two major freeways.
The downpour brought chaos to the morning commute for many, turning some highways into lakes, with officials saying parts of both Interstates 10 and 17 were shut to traffic.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer declared a statewide emergency for areas affected by the severe rainfall and flooding.
"Non-essential state employees should stay home today. If you must travel, please do so with caution & BE SAFE!" Brewer said on Twitter, alongside the hashtag #TurnAroundDontDrown.
A record-setting 3.29 inches of rain landed on Sky Harbor International Airport, beating the 2.91 inches that fell in September 1939 for the most rainfall in a single day in Phoenix.
One city on the southeast outskirts of Phoenix saw more than 5-1/2 inches of rain.
"We've made it through the worst," Mark O'Malley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix, said late on Monday morning. "We're probably done for the day for most of the Phoenix area."
He said the moisture-heavy air lingering over metropolitan Phoenix will mean a roughly 30 percent chance of rain for Tuesday, followed by a drying trend over the next few days.
At its peak, airport officials reported that flights were delayed for 25 minutes and roughly 20,000 people were without power from the deluge because of downed power poles and lines throughout the Phoenix area.
Multiple schools in the Phoenix area canceled classes for the day, and others pushed back the start of the school day until later in the day.
Local television stations broadcast footage of severe flooding, with some abandoned vehicles nearly completely submerged. As of late morning, the cars were shown being towed away off the highways.
Authorities said several people were rescued from vehicles trapped by the flood water, and that the roof of a grocery store partially collapsed in the storm. There were no injuries.
In southern Arizona, authorities also reported flooded streets from rains that swept through the area.
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis; Doina Chiacu and Sandar Maler)