A stunned U.S. East Coast woke up Thursday to a rising death toll, surging rivers and destruction from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which walloped the region with record-breaking rain days after one of the strongest U.S. hurricanes on record hit the Gulf Coast.
In a region that hadn’t expected a serious blow from the no-longer-hurricane, the storm killed at least 46 people from Maryland to New York on Wednesday night — including 23 in New Jersey alone — as basement apartments suddenly filled with water, rivers and creeks swelled to record levels and roadways turned into car-swallowing canals.
- New York: At least 13 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 in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.
- New Jersey: Among the 23 confirmed dead by the state’s governor were four people found dead in one apartment complex in Elizabeth, N.J.
- Pennsylvania: At least five people died, including three in suburbs outside Philadelphia. One person was killed by a falling tree while another drowned in a car and a third died in a home.
- Maryland: A 19-year-old man was killed in the flooding at an apartment complex in Rockville, Md., early Wednesday, police said.
- Connecticut: An on-duty state trooper was swept away in flood waters Thursday morning in Woodbury, and later taken to hospital where he died, authorities said.
Deborah Torres, who lives on the first floor of a building where three people died in a basement apartment in New York City’s Queens borough, said water rapidly filled her first-floor apartment to her knees as her landlord frantically urged her neighbours below — who had a baby — to get out, she said. But the water was rushing in so strongly that she said she figured they weren’t able to open the door.
“I have no words,” she said. “How can something like this happen?”
The National Weather Service said the ferocious storm also spawned at least 10 tornadoes from Maryland to Massachusetts, including a twister with winds up to 241 km/h that splintered homes and toppled silos in Mullica Hill, N.J., south of Philadelphia.
“It just came through and ripped,” said resident Jeanine Zubrzycki, 33, who hid in her basement with her three children as their house shook and lights flickered.
Scranton, Pa., saw its “wettest day on record,” according to the governor’s office, which also noted that Harrisburg and Altoona had their third-wettest days, and several waterways in southeastern Pennsylvania set records for flooding.
In New York, nearly 500 vehicles were abandoned on flooded highways, garbage bobbed in streaming streets and water cascaded into the city’s subway tunnels, trapping at least 17 trains and disrupting service all day. Videos online showed riders standing on seats in swamped cars. All were safely evacuated, with police aiding 835 riders and scores of people elsewhere, including a 94-year-old man on a highway, Harrison said.
Thursday morning, the nation’s largest city was slow to recover from catastrophic flooding that was reminiscent of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The National Weather Service recorded more than 8.9 centimetres of rain in New York’s Central Park in one hour Wednesday night, far surpassing the more than 4.9 centimetres that fell in one hour during Henri on the night of Aug. 21, which was believed at the time to be the most ever recorded in the park. Scientists have warned such weather extremes will be more common with man-made climate change.
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,” said Hochul, who became governor last week after the resignation of Andrew Cuomo.
Major flooding along Pennsylvannia’s Schuylkill River 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 tri-state area ended by daybreak Thursday as rescuers searched for more stranded people and braced to potentially find more bodies.
‘Historic weather event’
“We’re enduring an historic weather event tonight with record breaking rain across the city, brutal flooding and dangerous conditions on our roads,” de Blasio said while declaring a state of emergency in New York City late Wednesday.
City officials banned travel for all but emergency vehicles until early Thursday and warned against unnecessary travel into the morning.
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.
WATCH | Flooding subways, floating cars, boat rescues as Ida terrorizes northeastern U.S.:
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.
In Elizabeth, N.J., near Newark airport, four people died and 600 were left homeless from rain and river flooding in an apartment complex, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said.
Neighbours described hearing screaming from the complex at about 11 p.m. local time as water flowed down the street, pushing dumpsters and cars around.
“Sandy had nothing on this,” resident Jennifer Vilchez said, referring to the 2012 superstorm.
In Passaic, N.J., a 70-year-old man was swept away after his family was rescued from their car.
Flash flood warning continues
Rescues took place all over New York City as its 8.8 million people saw much worse flooding than they did during 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 U.S. and Ida struck Louisiana as the fifth-strongest storm to ever hit the U.S. mainland, leaving one million people without power.
A flash flood warning continued into Thursday in New England. Authorities used boats to rescue 18 people from a flooded neighbourhood in Plainville, Conn., and 15 people — including one who uses a wheelchair — from a flooded complex in North Kingstown, R.I. A road in Portsmouth, R.I., crumbled.
The Atlantic hurricane season is far from over.
Larry became a hurricane Thursday morning and was forecast to rapidly intensify into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm by Sunday. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm is moving west but remains far from any coast.
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