‘We’re not out of this yet’: At least 45 dead after flooding overwhelms NYC, Northeast

NEW YORK – The death toll from the remnants of Hurricane Ida’s blast through the Northeast rose Thursday after fierce downpours and flooding, claiming four times as many lives as the storm’s initial landfall.

At least 45 people died Wednesday and Thursday, state and local officials said. Twenty-three deaths were reported in New Jersey, 15 in New York, five in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland and one in Connecticut.

The carnage comes days after Hurricane Ida barreled ashore Sunday in Louisiana packing 150 mph winds. At least 9 deaths due to flooding and carbon monoxide poisoning have been reported Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed the 23 deaths in his state in a news conference Thursday afternoon. The majority of the deaths were people who got caught in their vehicles by flooding and were overtaken by the water, he said.

“Please keep each and everyone of them and their families in your prayers, and let’s hope that that number doesn’t go up,” Murphy said. He added: “Please stay off the roads. We’re not out of this yet.”

Standing beside the governor, U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski told Americans the disaster should be a “wake-up call.”

“Anybody who believes that it’s too expensive to stop climate change … has got to wake up to the fact that we cannot afford not to,” Malinowski said.

At least 12 people died in New York City, and suburban Westchester County reported three deaths.

In New York City, the downpours turned streets into rivers and swamped basement and first-floor apartments. The National Weather Service office in New York declared a flash flood emergency, a rare warning for situations where the flooding is “leading to a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage.”

De Blasio said Thursday that a travel advisory remained in effect, and that all nonemergency vehicles were advised to stay off of city streets while cleanup continued.

“Our hearts ache for the lives lost in last night’s storm,” de Blasio tweeted. “They were our fellow New Yorkers and to their families, your city will be there for you in the days ahead.”

The good news is that Ida has run its course. The center of the storm is a more than 100 miles east of Massachusetts and moving to the northeast, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist John Feerick said. 

“As far as the United States goes, it’s gone,” Feerick told USA TODAY. “We were certainly expecting a lot of rain, but look at how quickly it came down, especially in cities like New York. Three, 4 inches in an hour that overwhelmed the infrastructure.”

President Joe Biden addressed the nation Thursday, promising full federal cooperation with cleanup efforts and urging insurance companies not to use technicalities to limit payouts.

My message to everyone who is affected – we’re all in this together,” Biden said. “This isn’t about politics. Hurricane Ida didn’t care if you were a Democrat or a Republican.”

New York’s FDR Drive, a major artery on the east side of Manhattan, and the Bronx River Parkway were underwater late Wednesday. Videos shared on social media showed the Brooklyn Queens Expressway impassible, cars stuck in streets in Elmhurst, Queens and water racing into subway stations in Manhattan.

New York police responded to numerous 911 calls, but the department did not have an initial tally of how many water rescues took place as of Thursday afternoon.

In Brooklyn, Dan Melamid said Thursday that he had been on the phone with a friend when he looked out the window of his apartment and saw how high the water was getting. 

“I thought this was Noah’s Ark,” he said. 

He grabbed his flip-flops – the first shoes available – and ran to his car before the floodwaters could sweep it away, a fate others near McCarren Park could not avoid. The water was nearly in his car, but he was able to drive to a spot several blocks from the worst flooding. In the scramble, he lost a flip-flop.

“I had to walk home barefoot,” he said.

The National Weather Service recorded 3.15 inches of rain in New York’s Central Park in one hour late Wednesday, far surpassing the record 1.94 inches that fell in one hour during Tropical Storm Henri less than two weeks ago.

Cedric Lewis, 27, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said he saw what looked like a new pond in Central Park on Thursday morning. The water nearly submerged a  tunnel, and Lewis estimated the flooding was about 7 feet deep.

“It looks like there’s supposed to be a pond here. There are ducks swimming,” Lewis said, describing the scene as similar to something out of “The Wizard of Oz.” “You could dive off the bridge into this water and it’d be fine.”

In New Jersey, four people were found dead in an apartment complex after more than 6 inches of rain drenched Elizabeth, city officials said. Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said one person died there in a submerged car. Passaic officials also said they fear a woman and her child were swept away by the flooding. 

Flooding also killed two people in Hillsborough and two in Bridgewater, and one in Milford Borough, where authorities found a man’s body in a car buried up to its hood in dirt and rocks, authorities said.

Anthony Lauro, owner of Anthony’s Cheesecake & Restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey, said he hadn’t been this upset since his mother died.

His restaurant, which was just remodeled in March after a dismal year because of COVID-19, is destroyed. Water and mud cover the floors of the kitchen and dining room. The basement is submerged in 5 feet of water. All the storage, stock and food in the restaurant are unsalvageable. The outdoor café is toppled and muddy.

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