NEW YORK — 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 hitting the Gulf Coast as one of the strongest hurricanes on record to strike the U.S.
In a region that hadn’t expected a serious blow from the no-longer-hurricane, the storm killed at least 18 people from Maryland to New York on Wednesday night as basement apartments suddenly filled with water, rivers and creeks swelled to record levels and roadways turned into car-swallowing canals.
Multiple Fatalities Reported Across the Northeast
Nine people died in New York City, many when they became trapped in flooded basements, police and Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Four people were found dead in an apartment complex in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the city’s mayor and spokesperson told local media, correcting an earlier report of five.
Outside Philadelphia, officials reported “multiple fatalities,” saying no additional details were immediately available. A 19-year-old man was killed in the flooding at the Rockville complex early Wednesday, police said.
In Connecticut, an on-duty state trooper and his cruiser were swept away in flood waters Thursday morning in Woodbury, and the trooper was taken to a hospital, state police and local authorities said.
Record Rainfall Hits NYC, Prompting Evacuations
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 own apartment to her knees. The landlord frantically urged her neighbors below to get out, she said.
“The water pressure was so fast and strong, so I think they couldn’t open the door either way because this is like a pool,” she said. “I don’t know how that happened. It was so fast.”
The ferocious storm also spawned tornadoes, including one that ripped apart homes and toppled silos in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, south of Philadelphia.
Water from record rainfall cascaded into New York City subway tunnels, trapping at least 17 trains and forcing the cancelation of service throughout the night and early morning. Videos online showed riders standing on seats in cars filled with water. All riders were evacuated safely, officials 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 3.15 inches of rain in Central Park in one hour Wednesday night, far surpassing the previous recorded high of 1.94 inches that fell in one hour during Henri on Aug. 21. Scientists have warned such weather extremes will be more common with man-made global warming.
Pennsylvania Community Largely Under Water Amid ‘Historic Flooding’
Major flooding along the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania 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 for potentially finding more bodies.
“We’re enduring an historic weather event tonight with record breaking rain across the city, brutal flooding and dangerous conditions on our roads,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said while declaring a state of emergency in New York City late Wednesday.
Police in Connecticut were investigating a report of a person missing due to the flooding in Woodbury. In Passaic, New Jersey, a 70-year-old man was swept away after his family was rescued from their car.
NYC Officials Ban Unnecessary Travel
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.
Heavy winds and drenching rains collapsed the roof of a U.S. Postal Service building in New Jersey and threatened to overrun a dam in Pennsylvania.
In New York City, officials banned travel for all but emergency vehicles until early Thursday and warned against unnecessary travel into the morning. The 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.
The National Weather Service office in New York issued its first-ever set of flash flood emergencies in the region Wednesday night, alerts only sent in the most dangerous conditions. An emergency was issued Aug. 22 in Waverly, Tennessee, when flooding in the town and surrounding county killed 20 people after the rainfall in one day shattered the state record.
Deadly Weather Conditions Occurring Across the Nation
That was the start of a deadly two weeks across the nation. Wildfires are threatening Lake Tahoe, Tropical Storm Henri struck the Northeast and Ida struck Louisiana as the fifth-strongest storm to ever hit the U.S. mainland, leaving 1 million people without power, maybe for weeks.
Rescues took place all over New York City as its 8.8 million people saw much worse flooding than from Henri.
Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency in all 21 counties, urging people to stay off the flooded roads. Meteorologists warned that rivers likely won’t crest for a few more days, raising the possibility of more widespread flooding.
“There’s a lot of hurt in New Jersey,” Murphy told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday as he discussed damage caused by flooding in the northern part of the state and tornadoes in the southern part of the state.
Transportation Services Limited or Cancelled
Newark International Airport shut down Wednesday night as videos showed water rushing through a terminal. The airport was allowing limited flights Thursday. Officials said 370 flights have been canceled so far.
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 awoke Thursday to inundated roads, commuter delays and an ongoing flash flood warning. Some students at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut were forced to relocate from their dorms. In Plainville, Connecticut, authorities said they used boats to rescue 18 people from a flooded neighborhood.
A section of Route 24 in southeastern Massachusetts was shut down because of water on the highway. In Portsmouth, Rhode Island, a road crumbled under the onslaught of rain.
Forecasts Predict ‘Hurricane Season is Far From Over’
The National Weather Service said it was investigating a possible tornado touchdown on Cape Cod around 1 a.m. Thursday. Meteorologist Bill Simpson said reported damage including downed trees.
Parts of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where 2,200 people died after an infamous dam failure in 1889, were evacuated for a time Wednesday after water reached dangerous levels at a dam near the city. An official said later Wednesday that the water levels near the dam were receding.
In Frederick County, Maryland, first responders used a boat to rescue 10 children and a driver from a school bus caught in rising flood waters. The county’s school superintendent faced criticism for not dismissing students early. He apologized, saying the decision to remain open led to “stress and anxiety for many,” The Frederick News-Post reported.
The Atlantic hurricane season is far from over. Larry became a hurricane Thursday morning, forecast to rapidly intensify into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm by Sunday. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said it’s moving west but remains far from any coast.