At least 43 dead as Ida wreaks unprecedented flooding across New York and New Jersey

Deaths include a two-year-old boy and a number of people who became trapped in flooded basements

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent in New York
Friday 03 September 2021 00:14
Storm Ida floodwater rushes into New York subway station
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New York and New Jersey are under a state of emergency after historic rainfall, powerful winds and tornadoes from Storm Ida lashed the region.

The death toll rose to at least 43 people on Thursday in New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, including a two-year-old boy.

New York Police Department reported that at least eight people were killed when their basement apartments flooded. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, five people were found dead after an apartment complex flooded, according to a city spokesperson.

A 70-year-old man died when his vehicle was swept away by flood waters in Passaic, New Jersey. Firefighters in scuba gear attempted to reach trapped drivers in places where the water level reached up to six feet.

“His family was rescued, they were all in the same car. Unfortunately, the car was overtaken by the waters, and the firefighters who were being dragged down under the vehicle were unable to get him out,” Passaic mayor Hector Lora told CBS2.

Subway, train and bus services have been suspended across the city while cars were submerged in water on major roads like FDR Drive and the Bronx River Parkway.

Hundreds of flights have been delayed at New York’s LaGuardia and JFK airports, while at Newark videos showed lower levels of the airport and baggage claim filling up with water.

Subway riders were forced to climb on to seats as water gushed into carriages while torrents poured down stairwells and along platforms. At the US Open tennis championships in Queens, rainfall cascaded through the roofed stadium.

The devastating conditions pummelled New York after Ida slammed into Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of up to 150mph which left more than one million people without power.

The storm was downgraded but continued to wreak havoc with deluges across the country on its slow march north.

Ida is the joint-fifth strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in what’s shaping up to be a highly active Atlantic season.

New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy said that at least 23 people were killed in his state, and 15 died in New York, according to The New York Times.

Officials in Pennsylvania say that four people were also killed in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, while one person died in Connecticut.

For the first time ever, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Flash Flood Emergency for New York City and northeast New Jersey on Wednesday night. “Move to higher ground now! This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation,” the agency wrote.

The upgraded emergency status, over a regular flash flood warning, was due to the extreme level of rainfall – up to 10 inches over several hours, the NWS said.

In Manhattan’s Central Park 3.15in of rain fell in just one hour.

At a press conference on Thursday, New York governor Kathy Hochul said: “Because of climate change, unfortunately this is something we’re going to have to deal with with great regularity.” 

The climate crisis is creating conditions which are driving more powerful, destructive storms like Ida.

“These things are coming more frequently, they’re more intense, sadly more deadly and we’ve got to update our playbook,” New Jersey governor Phil Murphy told Good Morning America.

The latest United Nations climate report – the most authoritative, global assessment on climate science – reported last month that storms with sustained higher wind speeds, in the Category 3-5 range, have likely increased in the past 40 years.

And as the planet heats up, more moisture is held in the atmosphere which means storms also bring the potential of a lot more rainfall.

“Within about 150km of the storm centre, we expect average rain flux rate to increase about 7 per cent for every one degree Celsius of global warming,” Dr Tom Knutson, senior scientist with the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, told The Independent.

Global sea level rise is compounding the danger of storm surge. The sea level off New York’s coast is up to nine inches higher than it was in 1950.

Forecasters continued to issue flood warnings across New Jersey on Thursday as several major rivers had not yet crested.

The Passaic, Delaware and Raritan rivers are expected to hit peak levels from Thursday afternoon onwards.

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