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In Ida’s aftermath, Northeast recovers from a storm it couldn’t see coming

Historic rainfall flooded New York City streets Wednesday night, paralyzing public transportation in the metropolitan area and leaving more than two dozen dead down the coast by Thursday.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Merely the remnants of the storm that pounded the Gulf Coast earlier in the week brought record rainfall and flooding that killed at least 26 people from New York to Maryland overnight, as basement and ground-floor apartments abruptly filled with water, inundated waterways swelled to unprecedented levels, and city streets transmogrified into sewage-ridden canals.

In a single hour Wednesday night, Central Park saw 3.15 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, breaking a record set less than two weeks ago when 1.94 inches fell in one hour during Henri on Aug. 21.

The daily total of 7.13 inches of rain that fell in New York City on Wednesday was the city's fifth highest daily amount. As the region experienced its first direct hit from a major hurricane-season storm since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in 2012, the city issued a flash-flood emergency Wednesday for the first time in New York City history.

Into the evening, as videos on social media showed passengers stranded in heavily flooded underground subway stations, the city's Metropolitan Transportation Agency suspended all subway service. The MTA began slowly resuming service by Thursday afternoon, with partial-line suspensions and ongoing delays.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Kathy Hochul, who declared separate states of emergency, held a joint press conference Thursday morning in Queens where eight people lost their lives after getting trapped in flooded basement apartments.

“We are in a whole new world now,” de Blasio said. “Let's be blunt about it. We saw a horrifying storm last night, unlike anything we have seen before. And this is a reality we have to face.”

Only one of the 12 drownings that the city recorded from the storm was in a car rather than at home. Deaths and damage from storm are still being counted. At least eight died in New Jersey, four people of whom were killed at one Elizabeth apartment complex, the city’s mayor and spokesperson told local media. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, lost three lives, one of them from a falling tree. The early days of the storm also brought deaths over the weekend in Louisiana and Mississippi, where hundreds of thousands were evacuated and 1 million people lost power.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York, warned that extreme weather such as what occurred Wednesday will only become more frequent and inevitable due to climate change.

“Global warming is upon us, and it's going to get worse and worse and worse unless we do something about it,” Schumer said on Thursday. “And that's why it's so imperative to pass the two bills, the infrastructure bill and the budget-reconciliation bill — the second deals with climate change — and we'll reduce the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere by 50% by 2030.

“Woe is us, if we don't recognize these changes are due to climate change,” Schumer continued. “Woe is us if we don't do something about it quickly, both in building resilient infrastructure and going to clean power, whether it's in homes, in electricity and transportation to stop the global warming, or at least reduce its awful effects on this country.”

Damage to the side of a building from the remnants of Hurricane Ida is shown on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in Queens, New York. Some of the occupants were killed when several feet of water collapsed the wall to their basement apartment and flooded the apartment. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

To the northeastern and Gulf states battered by Hurricane Ida, and for western states beset by wildfires, President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged to deliver robust federal relief.

“These extreme storms, and the climate crisis, are here,” President Biden said in a White House speech. “We must be better prepared. We need to act.”

Biden said he will urge Congress to pass his nearly $1 trillion infrastructure bill to improve roads, bridges, the electric grid and sewer systems. “I’m going to press for their action on my Build Back Better plan that’s going to make historic investments in electrical infrastructure, modernizing our roads, bridges, our water systems, sewer and drainage systems, electric grids and transmission lines and make them more resilient to these super storms and wildfires and floods that are going to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity.”

Newark International Airport shut down Wednesday night as videos showed a deluge water coursing through a terminal. The airport was allowing limited flights Thursday. Officials said 370 flights have been canceled so far.

By 5 a.m. on Thursday morning in Pennsylvania, the water level along the Schuylkill River was above flood levels at 14 feet near 30th Street Station. The flooding submerged cars, disrupted rail service and swamped highways.

Amtrak service was canceled between Philadelphia and Boston, resuming in limited capacity Thursday morning. New Jersey Transit train service remained suspended with the exception of the Atlantic City line. Buses were running with myriad cancelations and delays. Transit officials cautioned against traveling unless it’s “absolutely essential.”

At least 220,000 customers were without power in the region, with most of the outages in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. More than 35,000 customers were without power Thursday morning in New York City, Long Island and its northern suburbs.

Southern New England also experienced submerged roads, commuter delays and an ongoing flash flood warning.

Ida was the fifth most powerful storm in U.S. history, striking Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 150 mph, likely causing tens of billions of dollars in flood, wind and other damage, including to the electrical grid.  

The Category 4 storm first made landfall at Grand Isle, Louisiana, on Sunday, before touching down again in Galliano, near the mouth of the Mississippi River not far from New Orleans, on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans was plunged into total darkness at one point. The power was back on Thursday before dawn in parts of the city’s business district and other downtown neighborhoods.

A revamp of the levee system after the devastation in Hurricane Katrina protected New Orleans from catastrophic flooding in this storm.

President Biden will visit Louisiana on Friday to survey Ida's aftermath and speak with local and state leaders, the White House said Wednesday.

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Categories / Environment, Regional

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