Hurricane Ida: More than 25 deaths as storm pounds New York

A stunned US East Coast woke to a rising death toll, surging rivers and destruction after the remnants of Hurricane Ida walloped the region with record-breaking rain, filling low-lying apartments with water and turning roads into car-swallowing canals.

At least 12 people died in New York City in flooding caused by the remnants of Ida. All but one of the people killed in the flooding so far were in basement apartments. Another man was found in a car on the flooded Grand Central Parkway in Queens.

Police said they found the bodies of three of the people around noon in a flooded basement near Kissena Park in Queens when they responded to a 911 call.

The chief of the NYPD’s community affairs bureau, Jeffrey Maddrey, said officers were going to door-to-door searching for people trapped or killed. “We are making sure there are no other victims of a similar nature with the surrounding homes.”

In a region that had been warned about potentially deadly flash flooding but hadn’t braced for such a blow from the no-longer-hurricane, the storm killed at least 26 people from Maryland to New York on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

At least 12 people died in New York City, police said, one of them in a car and 11 in flooded basement apartments that often serve as relatively affordable homes for low-income people. Officials said at least eight died in New Jersey and three in Pennsylvania’s suburban Montgomery County; one was killed by a falling tree, one drowned in a car and another in a home. An on-duty state trooper in Connecticut was swept away in his cruiser and later taken to a hospital, state police and local authorities said.

In New York City, Sophy Liu roused her son from bed, put on a life jacket on him and squeezed him into an inflatable swimming ring as their first-floor apartment flooded in Queens.

Unable to open the door against the force of the water, she called friends for help. The water was nearly 1.5m high when they came to her rescue, she said.

“I was obviously scared, but I had to be strong for my son. I had to calm him down,” she recalled on Thursday as medical examiners removed three bodies from a home down the street.

In another part of Queens, water rapidly filled Deborah Torres’ first-floor apartment to her knees as her landlord frantically urged her neighbours below — who included a baby — to get out, she said. But the water rushed in so strongly that she surmised they weren’t able to open the door. The three residents died.

“I have no words,” she said. “How can something like this happen?”

US President Joe Biden has pledged robust federal help to the Northeastern and Gulf states battered by Hurricane Ida and for western states beset by wildfires—with the catastrophes serving as deadly reminders that the “climate crisis” has arrived.

“These extreme storms, and the climate crisis, are here,” Biden said in a White House speech. “We must be better prepared. We need to act.”

The President said he will further press Congress to pass his nearly $1 trillion infrastructure bill to improve roads, bridges, the electric grid and sewer systems. The proposal intends to ensure that the vital networks connecting cities and states and the country as a whole can withstand the flooding, whirlwinds and damage caused by increasingly dangerous weather.

Biden stressed that this was a challenge that transcends the politics of a deeply divided nation because of the threats posed by the storms and fires.

“It’s a matter of life and death and we’re all in this together.”

The remnants of Ida lost most of the storm’s winds but kept its soggy core, then merged with a more traditional storm front and dropped an onslaught of rain on the Interstate 95 corridor, meteorologists said. The situation has followed hurricanes before, but experts said it was slightly exacerbated by climate change — warmer air holds more rain — and the urban setting, where expansive pavement prevents water from seeping into the ground.

The National Hurricane Center had warned since Tuesday of the potential for “significant and life-threatening flash flooding” and moderate and major river flooding in the mid-Atlantic region and New England.

Still, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the storm’s strength took them by surprise.

“We did not know that between 8.50 and 9.50pm last night, that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls level of water to the streets of New York,” said Hochul, a Democrat who became governor last week after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned.

De Blasio said he’d gotten a forecast Wednesday of 7.5 to 15cm of rain over the course of the day. The city’s Central Park ended up getting about 9cm just in one hour of the deluge, surpassing the previous recorded high of 5cm in one hour during Tropical Storm Henri on August 21.

Water cascaded into subway tunnels, trapping at least 17 trains and forcing the cancelation of service throughout the night and early morning. Videos online showed riders standing on seats in cars filled with water. All riders were evacuated safely, officials said.

The FDR Drive in Manhattan and the Bronx River Parkway were under water during the storm. Garbage bobbed in the water rushing down streets. Some subway and rail service had resumed Thursday morning.

Among the other deaths reported in New York City, a 48-year-old woman and a 66-year-old man died after being found at separate residences, and a 43-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man both died after being found inside a home. Causes of death and identifications were pending.

The ferocious storm also spawned tornadoes, including one that ripped apart homes and toppled silos in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, south of Philadelphia.

Record flooding along the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania inundated homes and commercial buildings, swamped highways, submerged cars and disrupted rail service in the Philadelphia area. In a tweet, city officials predicted “historic flooding” on Thursday as river levels continue to rise. The riverside community of Manayunk remained largely under water.

The rain in the region ended by daybreak Thursday as rescuers searched for more stranded people and braced for potentially finding more bodies.

Heavy winds and drenching rains punched a hole in the roof of a US Postal Service building in New Jersey. Rain rushed through a terminal at Newark International Airport Wednesday and threatened to overrun a dam in Pennsylvania. Meteorologists warned that rivers likely won’t crest for a few more days, raising the possibility of more widespread flooding.

Rescues took place all over New York City as its 8.8 million people saw much worse flooding than from Henri, which was followed by two weeks of wild and sometimes deadly weather across the nation. Wildfires are threatening Lake Tahoe, Tropical Storm Henri struck the Northeast and Ida struck Louisiana as the fifth-strongest storm to ever hit the US mainland, leaving 1 million people without power, maybe for weeks.

Amtrak service was cancelled between Philadelphia and Boston.

At least 220,000 customers were without power in the region at one point, with most of the outages in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Southern New England awoke Thursday to inundated roads, commuter delays and an ongoing flash flood warning. Some students at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut were forced to relocate from their dorms. In Plainville, Connecticut, authorities said they used boats to rescue 18 people from a flooded neighborhood.

A section of Route 24 in southeastern Massachusetts was shut down because of water on the highway. In Portsmouth, Rhode Island, a road crumbled under the onslaught of rain.

The National Weather Service said it was investigating a possible tornado touchdown on Cape Cod around 1am Thursday. Meteorologist Bill Simpson said reported damage including downed trees.

Parts of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where 2200 people died after an infamous dam failure in 1889, were evacuated for a time Wednesday after water reached dangerous levels at a dam near the city. An official said later Wednesday that the water levels near the dam were receding.

In Frederick County, Maryland, first responders used a boat to rescue 10 children and a driver from a school bus caught in rising floodwaters. The county’s school superintendent faced criticism for not dismissing students early. He apologised, saying the decision to remain open led to “stress and anxiety for many,” the Frederick News-Post reported.

The Atlantic hurricane season is far from over. Larry became a hurricane Thursday morning, forecast to rapidly intensify into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm by Sunday. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said it’s moving west but remains far from any coast.

– AP

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