Ida dumps record-breaking rain, triggering deadly flooding in New York area

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MAPLEWOOD, N.J., Sept 2 (Reuters) – Flooding killed at least 18 people, swept away cars, submerged subway lines and temporarily grounded flights in New York and New Jersey as the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought torrential rains to the area.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a Thursday news conference there were nine confirmed fatalities in New York caused by what he had described as a “historic weather event.”

Countless rescues were made overnight of motorists and subway riders who became stranded in the flood waters, de Blasio said.

Images posted on social media overnight showed water gushing over subway platforms and people wading through knee-deep water in their buildings.

Streets turned to rivers as flooding swept away cars in videos captured by stunned residents.

Four residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey, perished in flooding at Oakwood Plaza, a public housing complex that was “flooded out with eight feet of water,” city spokesperson Kelly Martins told Reuters.

Somerset County, New Jersey, reported four confirmed deaths due to flooding overwhelming motorists, with at least one person unaccounted for, according to Frank Roman, deputy chief of the county prosecutor’s office.

“Sadly, more than a few folks have passed as a result of this,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said at a briefing in Mullica Hill in the southern part of the state where a tornado had ripped apart several homes.

The hit to the Middle Atlantic region came three days after Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast, devastated southern Louisiana, destroying entire communities.

RECORD-BREAKING RAIN

Ida’s remnants brought six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm) of rain to a swath of the Northeast from Philadelphia to Connecticut and set an hourly record of 3.15 inches for Manhattan, breaking the previous one that was set less than two weeks ago, the National Weather Service said.

The 7.13 inches of rain that fell in New York City on Wednesday was the city’s fifth highest daily amount, it said.

New York officials blamed much of flooding on the unexpected record-setting intensity of the rainfall that occurred in a short space of time, rather than the daily total for the day, which was within predictions.

“Because of climate change, unfortunately, this is something we’re going to have to deal with great regularity,” said Kathy Hoc, New York’s newly minted governor.

The number of disasters, such as floods and heat waves, driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 50 years, according to a report released earlier this week by The World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday the federal government stood ready to provide “all the assistance that’s needed.”

NBC New York reported at least 25 fatalities, including a toddler, and said most “if not all” deaths were flood-related.

The governors of New York and New Jersey, who had declared emergencies in their states on Wednesday, urged residents to stay home as crews worked to clear roadways and restore service to New York City subways and commuter rail lines serving millions of residents.

“Right now my street looks more like a lake,” said Lucinda Mercer, 64, as she peered out her apartment window in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York.

Mercer, who works as a crisis line fundraiser, said flood waters were lapping halfway up the hub caps of parked cars.

Subway service in New York City remained “extremely limited” while there was no service at all on commuter rail lines to the city’s northern suburbs on Thursday morning, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTPA) said. Janno Lieber, the MTA’s acting chair and CEO, told local media it was going to take until later in the day to restore full service.

The Long Island Railroad, which is also run by the MTA, said early on Thursday that services on most of its branches had been restored.

‘HUMBLED BY MOTHER NATURE’

Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, said the city’s central business district was under water and some residents had to be evacuated to the library overnight.

“We are being humbled by mother nature in this last year and a half,” Wildes told Reuters by phone.

He said there were no known deaths in Englewood, although police, fire and other emergency responders had extracted several people trapped in their cars.

Mark Haley of Summit, New Jersey, said getting back home after a 15-minute drive to a bowling alley to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday on Wednesday night became a six-hour slog through flood waters that often left him trapped.

“When we got out, it was a war zone,” said Haley, 50, a fitness trainer, who got home to find almost two feet (0.6 m) of water in his basement.

All New Jersey Transit rail services apart from the Atlantic City Rail Line were suspended, the service said on its website.

Amtrak said on Thursday morning that it canceled all passenger rail service between Philadelphia and Boston.

New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport warned about flight disruptions and said about 370 flights were canceled as of Thursday morning.

Nearly 170,000 electricity customers were without power on Thursday in four northeastern states that got the bulk of the rains overnight, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to PowerOutage.US, which gathers data from utility companies.