At least 17 dead as Hurricane Ida remnants spark floods in New York, New Jersey
The remnants of Hurricane Ida unloaded a historic deluge in New York City and the surrounding area Wednesday night, as officials and relatives of victims in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania said the storm was linked to at least 17 deaths.
President Biden said he has been in touch with the three states' governors, and that federal emergency officials were on the ground and available to help. "My message to everyone affected is: We're all in this together," Biden said. "The nation is here to help. That's the message I've been making clear to the mayors, governors, energy and utility leaders."
The torrent left New York City largely at a standstill, with most subway service limited, delayed or suspended, and a citywide travel advisory in effect. The city is urging people to avoid non-emergency travel. Power was knocked out for more than 200,000 customers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. In a briefing, New York officials said the impact underscores the need for aggressive moves to shore up infrastructure as climate change drives record storms.
Authorities and relatives of victims in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania linked at least 17 deaths to the storm. In New York City, police officials said Thursday morning that at least nine people had been killed there. Most were found in homes after 911 calls about flooding, they said, and the police commissioner said one person was found in a car after a crash.
In New Jersey, a 70-year-old man from Clifton, N.J., died in Passaic after his vehicle sank under floodwaters, his family said. Four more people - a family of three adults and a neighbor - died at a complex of apartment buildings in Elizabeth, N.J., according to a spokeswoman for the city. She said those deaths were linked to the flooding, though exact causes had not been determined yet.
Most of New York City's deaths as of Thursday morning were reported in Queens. The New York Fire Department found a 22-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman unconscious at the scene of a partial building collapse in Jamaica, Queens, on Wednesday night, where 12 units responded before midnight after receiving reports of a water leak and flooding in the home. The man was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the NYPD. The woman was transported to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
In Flushing, Queens, police found a 50-year-old man, 48-year-old woman and 2-year-old boy unresponsive inside their home. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.
Police found an unresponsive 48-year-old woman in her home near Forest Hills, Queens, late Wednesday. They transported her to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. A 66-year-old man was found in Brooklyn and pronounced dead at the scene. Police said that shortly before midnight Wednesday, they responded to a 911 call about flooding in the Elmhurst area in Queens and found an 86-year-old woman who was pronounced dead at the scene.
During a briefing, Shea said a ninth New York City victim was found in the back seat of a car after a vehicle accident on the Grand Central Parkway. The police department said after the briefing that the incident remained under investigation.
Four people were found dead at a complex of apartment buildings in Elizabeth, N.J., said Kelly Martins, a spokeswoman for the city. They included a family of three - a 72-year-old woman, 71-year-old man and a 38-year-old man - along with a 33-year-old woman who was their neighbor, Martins said. The exact cause of death was not known late Thursday morning, Martins said, but it was "definitely linked to the flooding."
In New Jersey, a 70-year-old man from Clifton, N.J., died in Passaic after his vehicle sank underneath the floodwaters, his family members confirmed to The Post. Firefighters rescued the man's 66-year-old wife and 25-year-old son but were unable to reach the father in time, Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said early Thursday.
Lora said he talked to the family, who were "in complete shock." "Having seen the impact of a storm no one expected that devastated the area the way that it did, I would not be surprised if we find additional bodies," Lora said early Thursday.
The storm also battered Pennsylvania, causing flooding and knocking out power there.
Three storm-related deaths were being investigated Thursday in Montgomery County, Pa., according to Valerie Arkoosh, chair of that county's board of commissioners. During an online briefing, she said that two of the deaths were believed to be due to drowning and the third was due to structural damage the storm caused in Upper Dublin Township, which is north of Philadelphia.
The county was deluged by up to 6 to 10 inches of rain, prompting a flash flood emergency. Upon issuing the warning, the National Weather Service reported that more than 30 high-water rescues were ongoing.
"Many people in Pennsylvania are hurting," Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said during a news briefing. "We experienced a historic storm here, all across the commonwealth."
In remarks Thursday, Biden said his team told governors in states harmed most by Ida and the resulting tropical storm that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is available to provide as much as assistance as possible. He spoke ahead of his Friday trip to Louisiana, where the hurricane first made landfall this week.
Top Biden adviser Cedric Richmond, a former Louisiana lawmaker, will also be taking a lead in helping residents in his home state recover from the storms due to his familiarity working on the issue. And Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has been called upon to use tools such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to continue gas flow to the pumps to get critical supplies to the region.
The president pointed out that Dan Griswold, the current director and administrator of FEMA, was previously the chief federal response officer after 2012's Hurricane Sandy.
In a news conference Thursday, state and local leaders in New York pointedly underlined the role of climate change in the historic storm, vowing to learn from this event and shore up infrastructure ahead of future storms.
"This is the first time we've had a flash flood event of this proportion," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, D, said. "We haven't experienced this before but we should expect it the next time."
She called for an "after-action report" on the state's preparedness ahead of this storm.
"What did we know? When did we know what we had? What information did we have? Were there any intelligence failures in terms of our preparedness?" she said. "I know I deployed resources yesterday morning, but we did not know that between 8:50 and 9:50 p.m. last night, that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls-level water to the streets of New York. Could that have been anticipated? I want to find out."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said repeated record downpours in the area make it clear: "Global warming is upon us."
The rain came as the remnants of Hurricane Ida interacted with a frontal system over the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Ahead of the deluge, the Weather Service had declared a rare "high risk" of excessive rainfall from southern and eastern Pennsylvania through New York City into Connecticut.
Ida made landfall midday Sunday near Port Fourchon, La., as a Category 4 hurricane, slamming into New Orleans, knocking out electricity for more than 1 million people in the area, dropping tornadoes along its path and killing at least seven people in three states. The storm weakened as it made its way north, but it packed enough strength to inundate Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
Flooding from Hurricane Ida killed a family of three, including a small child, who rented a basement in a multifamily brick house at the bottom of a hill in Flushing. On Thursday, police had cordoned off the house and officers and firefighters were seen occasionally entering the building.
"That family was trapped and were killed, including a 2-year-old … it's just devastating," said Jimmy Van Bramer, the city councilman who represents the district, standing on the sidewalk outside the row of brick houses. "We clearly need an investigation into this particular location, if anything could have been done. It begs the question: What do we need to do to make sure this doesn't happen again?"
Floodwater appears to have been trapped where the hill meets an embankment for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. "The water levels in the neighborhood rose to really frightening levels, flooding all of these basements," Van Bramer said.
Geetha Kuttikan said this was unlike anything she'd experienced in her 31 years in the neighborhood. "We could not even look outside" during the storm, she said. The water in her house rose above her ankles, she said.
The extreme precipitation hit New York City just after it recorded more than 10 inches of rainfall in August, about a half-foot above normal.
The torrent penetrated major transportation hubs, with video showing flooding at Newark Liberty International Airport and a wall of gushing water at the 28th Street subway station in New York.
Amtrak said Thursday morning that it was canceling all service between Washington, D.C., and Boston for the rest of the day, cutting off a key transportation route across the Northeast. The rail operator had previously canceled some trains earlier Thursday and said it was having crews go out to inspect damage from the storm.
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, the newly opened South Ferry subway station was flooded. It took five years for the station to be repaired and upgraded. On Thursday morning, it was once again only partially operational.
People looking to head uptown were told that the 1 Train was out of service for most of Lower Manhattan. One tourist who approached an information booth to figure out the best route to the Upper East Side was offered a curt recommendation from an employee: "Take the bus."
Janno Lieber, acting chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in a statement that Wednesday was a "historic and challenging night."
"Torrential rains caused massive amounts of water to enter subways and flood roads, creating severe disruptions to service," he said, adding that the agency was focused on helping evacuate people.
Flooding also obstructed transportation in New Jersey, where all NJ Transit rail service, except the Atlantic City Rail Line, remained suspended as of Thursday.
New York City's Central Park received 7.13 inches of rain Wednesday, its fifth-wettest day on record. Between 9 and 10 p.m., 3.15 inches fell, the greatest amount in a single hour ever observed in the city. Newark had 8.41 inches of rain, its wettest day on record; 3.24 inches fell in a single hour. These rainfall amounts are expected to occur only once over a 200- to 500-year period.
The downpour in New York City caused at least two partial building collapses in Queens late Wednesday. In the Ridgewood neighborhood, 12 FDNY units also responded to a single-story storefront at about 10:15 p.m. after the Fire Department received reports of a roof collapse.
After the other partial collapse in Jamaica, Queens, that killed two people, several units remained at the scene in the early hours Thursday, according to Gilbert Dofredo, who lives two houses down from that home. Dofredo, 80, did not see the collapse but told The Washington Post that the whole street is flooded and at least a dozen homes have water in their basements. He said the water is knee-high in his home.
"Firemen are here, and they are pumping out the water from the basements right now," he said. "I'm still waiting for them to pump my water from my basement."
Dofredo, who has lived on his street for nearly 43 years, said the road has flooded several times in the past. "It's because the block is a basin," he said, noting that over the past year, the city has been rehabilitating the storm sewers. "I think it's even worse than before," he said.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida knocked out power for more than 200,000 customers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The system uprooted trees, swamped buried power lines and inundated city streets.
New York's power grid, though, appeared to withstand the barrage. Utilities in the region reported that most outages occurred in the suburbs, including around Philadelphia, northwest New Jersey and Westchester County, N.Y. Already Thursday morning, crews appeared to be making significant progress restoring service.
As of 10 a.m. Thursday, a site that tracks electricity outages said about 95,000 customers were without power in Pennsylvania, 62,000 in New Jersey, 37,000 in New York state and 16,000 in Connecticut.
FirstEnergy spokesman Chris Hoenig said about 21,400 customers in Pennsylvania and 33,600 in New Jersey were without power as of 3:45 a.m. Thursday. Teams were assessing storm damage in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, Hoenig said, so they could estimate service repair times.
Con Edison crews were working to restore power to more than 21,000 customers in New York, the company's outage maps reported Thursday morning. More than 16,000 of those customers lost power in Westchester County, north of the Bronx, when the storm swept through the area after midnight. Portions of the Bronx and Staten Island were also among the areas hardest hit, according to Con Edison. In New Jersey, Atlantic City Electric crews were assessing power outages affecting more than 1,800 people.
In the past two weeks, New York City has had three of its top 20 heaviest one-hour downpours on record; four of the top 20 have come this year. On Aug. 21, it received 1.69 and 1.84 inches in back-to-back hours. Another top-20 one-hour rainfall occurred on July 8, when 1.54 inches fell in a single hour.