The Northeast faced a rising death toll, rising rivers and tornado damage Thursday after the remnants of Hurricane Ida slammed the region with record-breaking rain. More than 40 people drowned in their homes and cars.
Various officials have blamed the storm for at least 46 deaths Wednesday night and Thursday morning from Maryland to Connecticut.
At least 23 people died in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said. At least 13 people were killed in New York City, according to police reports. Eleven of them died in flooded basement apartments, which often serve as relatively affordable homes in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. Suburban Westchester County reported three deaths.
At least five people died in Pennsylvania, including one killed by a falling tree and another who drowned in his car after helping his wife escape the vehicle. A Connecticut state police sergeant, Brian Mohl, perished after his cruiser was swept away. Another death was reported in Maryland.
Sophy Liu said she tried using towels and garbage bags to stop the water coming into her first-floor New York City apartment in Queens, but the flood rose to her chest in just a half hour. She roused her son from bed, put him in a life jacket and inflatable swimming ring, and tried to flee, but the door stuck. She called two friends who helped her jar it loose.
“I was obviously scared, but I had to be strong for my son. I had to calm him down,” Liu told The Associated Press (AP).
In another part of Queens, water rapidly filled Deborah Torres’ first-floor apartment to her knees as her landlord frantically urged her three neighbors below to get out. But the rushing water was so powerful that she feared they wouldn’t be able to open the door. Torres’ three neighbors died.
“I have no words,” she told AP. “How can something like this happen?”
Ida’s soggy remnants merged with a storm front and soaked the Interstate 95 corridor. Similar weather has followed hurricanes before, but some experts said it was slightly exacerbated by climate change — warmer air holds more rain — and urban settings, 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 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 9:50 p.m. last night, that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls level of water to the streets of New York,” Hochul said Thursday, according to AP.
De Blasio said he’d gotten a forecast Wednesday of 3 to 6 inches of rain for the day. The city’s Central Park ended up getting nearly 3.2 inches in just one hour, surpassing the previous one-hour high of 1.94 inches during Tropical Storm Henri on Aug. 21. Wednesday’s storm ultimately dumped a little more than 7 inches of rain Wednesday in Central Park, and more than 8 inches in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In Washington, President Joe Biden assured Northeast residents that federal first responders were on the ground to help clean up.
In New York, nearly 500 vehicles were abandoned on flooded highways and water cascaded into the city’s subway tunnels, trapping at least 17 trains and disrupting service.
In Elizabeth, New Jersey, rain and river flooding in an apartment complex killed four people and forced 600 residents from their homes, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said. In New Jersey’s Milford Borough, authorities said they found a man’s body in a car buried up to its hood in dirt and rocks.
National Weather Service records show that the storm spawned at least eight tornadoes, most of them in Maryland.
Record flooding along the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania inundated homes, highways and commercial buildings. The riverside community of Manayunk remained largely underwater.
In suburban Bucks County, several firefighters had to be rescued after floodwaters pinned a rescue boat against a bridge pier, state Emergency Management Director Randy Padfield said.
Ida struck Louisiana Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, the fifth-strongest storm to ever hit the U.S. mainland. At one point it left more than 1 million people without power statewide. That number stood at about 860,000 Friday morning.
Showers and thunderstorms could return to the Northeast this weekend. While pockets of heavy rain are possible, most of the storms will not likely spawn tornadoes or damaging winds.
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