Ida Brings Historic Flooding To The Northeast, Killing More Than 40 People
Updated September 2, 2021 at 5:54 PM ET
The summer of wild weather continues.
Hurricane Ida's remnants brought catastrophic levels of rain to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday into Thursday, triggering statewide emergencies as well as the first flash flood emergency issued for New York City.
The storm is blamed for more than 40 deaths, including 23 people in New Jersey, 12 people in New York, five in Pennsylvania, and one each in Connecticut and Maryland.
One flooding victim was just 2 years old, the New York Police Department said.
"We saw a horrifying storm last night, unlike anything we've seen before," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Thursday morning.
New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted that of the 23 deaths in his state, most were people who "got caught in their vehicles by flooding and were overtaken by the water. Our prayers are with their family members."
President Biden said he's been in contact with the governors of New York and New Jersey. Murphy said the White House offered support in the recovery effort, adding that he informed Biden "that I will request an expedited Major Disaster Declaration today."
Death toll grows as emergency crews keep working
Four people died from storm-related causes in the same apartment complex in Elizabeth, N.J., Kelly Martins, the city's public information officer, told NPR. They include a married couple in their 70s, along with their son, 38, and a female neighbor, 33.
In Passaic, N.J., Mayor Hector Lora reported at least one man in his 70s died after the car he was riding in was overtaken by water.
Three people died from storm-related causes in Montgomery County, Pa., Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the county's Board of Commissioners, said on Thursday. The county sits along the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia.
Flooding hits in Philadelphia and elsewhere
In areas where historic rainfalls have now passed, officials are anxiously watching river levels that are rising to rare heights, creating new dangers and disruptions.
Many people in the Northeast remain under emergency alerts Thursday.
The Schuylkill River was rising to dangerous levels in Philadelphia, where Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel told local media that the river was at heights not seen in more than 150 years.
The National Weather Service said the Schuylkill River crested at 16.4 feet around 3 p.m. ET Thursday.
Local officials said they will continue to monitor flooding of the Delaware River around parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Storm's devastation sparks calls for better infrastructure
Floodwaters halted road, train and air travel in New York and New Jersey as Ida's heavy rains turned streets and other impervious surfaces into rivers.
The perilous weather comes less than two weeks after Henri prompted a rare hurricane watch for New England, fueling concerns that dangerous weather patterns are becoming the new normal.
Calling for a new focus on infrastructure and preparedness, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other Democratic leaders in the state noted Thursday that a rainfall record from Wednesday night broke a mark that was set one week ago.
"That says to me that there are no more cataclysmic, unforeseeable events," Hochul said. "We need to foresee these in advance and be prepared."
Climate change has been tied to the more common occurrence of major hurricanes globally as well as the increase of hurricanes in the Atlantic. In addition to strong winds, many of the most dangerous storms in recent years have brought tremendous amounts of rain – creating new threats to infrastructure and people who live far from the coast.
Rainfall in New York City makes history
The rain fell particularly hard and fast Wednesday evening in New York City: between 6 and 10 inches over the course of several hours.
A record 3.15 inches of rain fell in Central Park in one hour, according to the National Weather Service. That amount surpasses the 1.94 inches that fell in one hour last month during Tropical Storm Henri, which was thought then to be the most ever recorded in the park.
Waist-level floodwaters caused significant travel delays throughout the city. Most subway lines had to be shut down, leaving commuters stranded and, in some cases, needing to be rescued by the fire department.
The fast-moving storm quickly became deadly overnight as emergency calls poured in to police.
In Brooklyn, officers found the body of a 66-year-old man in his home.
In the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, police said they entered a house to find a 48-year-old woman unresponsive. She was transferred to a local hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.
Also in Queens, police discovered the bodies of a 50-year-old man, a 48-year-old woman and a 2-year-old boy, also at a residence.
And in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, police came across a 45-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man at a house. The man was pronounced dead at the scene. The woman was transferred to Queens General Hospital and pronounced dead there.
Police are still investigating the cause of each of these deaths. The identities of the victims were not immediately disclosed.
Authorities pleaded with travelers not to attempt to drive through flooded roadways, but the New York City Fire Department reported needing to rescue several motorists. To prevent similar issues, the city issued a travel ban on all nonessential vehicles from New York City streets and highways until early Thursday.
Air travel was also halted, with New York's LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports reporting temporary flight disruptions.
Videos shared on Twitter show shocking scenes from Brooklyn to Staten Island.
Along the city's busy streets and highways, one bus driver navigated floodwaters in and outside his vehicle to get passengers to safety. In other areas, water was seen pouring down the stairway of one apartment building, and into a subway station.
At least one person was seen making the most of the weather. A TikTok video shows a man floating on a raft smoking a hookah.
New Jersey hit by floods and tornadoes
New Jersey residents endured flooding in the central and northern parts of the state, while a tornado tore houses apart in Mullica Hill in the south. PowerOutage.us reported more than 73,000 power outages early Thursday.
Newark Liberty International Airport was temporarily evacuated Wednesday evening after floodwaters got into the Terminal B baggage claim and ground-level floors of the airport. All flights in and out of the airport were canceled for a time.
New Jersey Transit also suspended rail service, except for the Atlantic City Line, on Wednesday.
The National Weather Service confirmed at least one tornado seriously damaged homes in Mullica Hill, near Philadelphia. New Jersey's governor toured the area Thursday morning, promising to help residents recover and remarking on the lack of casualties despite the damage.
Capt. Jason Astbury of the Trenton Police Department told those residents they should at least be prepared to be gone for possibly two days until floodwaters are cleared.
Southwestern Connecticut also suffered flooding, and police in Fairfield reported "numerous" vehicles were submerged or stuck, according to Connecticut Public Radio. Many school districts either canceled or delayed classes for Thursday.
"Many Connecticut roads were impassable due to flooding as of Thursday morning, including I-395 Northbound in Waterford," the station reported. "Both Amtrak and MetroNorth suspended rail service in Connecticut."
Tornadoes strike in Maryland and Pennsylvania
Multiple tornados also touched down Wednesday in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Local news channel ABC6 reported that one woman died in southeastern Pennsylvania after a tree came down onto a home.
"We were struck very hard with significant damage to the township building, to the high school, multiple homes, buildings at Temple's Ambler campus, and right now we really don't know exactly how bad the damage is," Upper Dublin Township Manager Paul Leonard told ABC6.
Pennsylvania recorded more than 97,000 power outages on Thursday morning.
Also Wednesday, a tornado touched down in Anne Arundel County, Md., causing serious damage to homes and businesses. The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in Annapolis at 2:15 p.m. Heavy rains caused isolated flooding in the towns of Rockville and Frederick.
Floodwaters were blamed for the death of a 19-year-old man in Rockville early Wednesday morning. Melkin Daniel Cedillo drowned in the flooding at Rock Creek Woods Apartments, according to Montgomery County police. Residents of that building were forced to evacuate.
NPR's Jasmine Garsd contributed to this report.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.