Steven Martinez of Western Towing prepares to lift a vehicle stranded in about 2 ft. of water in Phoenix on Sept. 8, 2014
Ralph Freso—AP
September 9, 2014 1:58 AM EDT

During parched Southwestern summers, when fields burn brown and bulls’ ribs heave from their skins, Arizonans pray for rain.

These days, though, they’re praying for it to stop.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Monday declared a statewide emergency after more than 3 in. of rain dropped in just eight hours on Phoenix, in a cruel answer to the state’s usually unyielding need for water. The area gets on average less rain than Monday’s rainfall over its entire three-month wet season.

The downpour has killed two people in the state, after one woman’s car was washed away in floodwaters in Tucson, and another woman was lost while seeking to flee her stricken vehicle amid a flood south of Phoenix, Reuters reported.

Some 3.29 in. of rain fell on Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, smashing a record daily rainfall for the city of 2.91 in., according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in the Arizona capital. That record was set in September 1939.

The area around Phoenix gets on average just 2.71 in. over the July, August and September wet season, according to NWS, and its ground is ill equipped to absorb the deluge. Instead, the rainfall — a mere drop in the bucket elsewhere in the U.S. — has rushed into the desert region’s roads, homes and businesses.

On Monday night, floodwaters were threatening up to 100 houses in suburban Mesa, 20 miles east of Phoenix, after rainwater exceeded the capacity of the area’s retention basins and channels, according to the Associated Press. Cars stranded on Interstate 10 in Arizona were sitting in pooled water up to their hoods, and rescuers launched difficult, dangerous operations to help people out of their vehicles.

About 20,000 people were without power in the Phoenix area, Reuters said. Many schools remained closed, nonessential government employees were told to stay home and employers discouraged staff from braving treacherous roads to come to work.

The rainfall also overwhelmed Nevada, where 190 people from an Indian reservation were evacuated Monday, the Associated Press said.

By Monday evening, NWS had issued a flash-flood watch for the entire four corners region (New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado). Though Phoenix skies quieted on Monday morning, flash-flood warnings remained in effect in the evening for La Paz and Mohave counties in Arizona and Lincoln County in Nevada, the service said.

The rain is fueled by former Hurricane Norbert as it lingers off the coast of Baja California and pushes warm, moist air into the Southwest, NWS said.

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