The New York area awoke to a flood-ravaged and largely paralyzed landscape on Thursday, after record-shattering rains brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida left a trail of death and damage across several states, shut down transit and exposed anew the region’s vulnerability to a changed climate.
At least nine people died as waters rose in basements. A tornado in southern New Jersey leveled a stretch of houses. Some drivers have reportedly been stranded since Wednesday night, more than 200,000 homes in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania remain without power, and states of emergency have been declared across the region.
The rains on Wednesday — more than half a foot in just a few hours — turned streets and subway platforms into rivers and sent emergency responders in boats rescuing people from the rooftops of cars and from flooded homes. Hundreds of people on trains and subways were evacuated.
Though the rain is done and skies are clearing, most of the city’s subway lines remain wholly or partly suspended, along with commuter rail service across the region. Airports were open but hundreds of flights were canceled. Rescues continued Thursday morning, and as the waters recede, the authorities fear they will find more victims.
The 3.15 inches that fell in Central Park in one hour broke a record set only days earlier by Tropical Storm Henri. Across the region, up to nine inches of rain fell in just a few hours. The National Weather Service, struggling to depict the level of danger, declared a flash flood emergency in New York City for the first time.
As unprecedented as the conditions were, climate scientists warn that they herald a new normal on a warmed planet, where hotter air holds more water, making hurricanes like Ida gather strength faster, tornadoes more widespread, and rains heavier.
In Bergen County, New Jersey’s most populous county, County Executive James Tedesco, a former firefighter, said Thursday morning, “We have not complete devastation but close to it. This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”
Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard, Isabella Grullón Paz, Matthew Haag, Jesus Jiménez, Michael Levenson, Eduardo Medina, Andy Newman, Azi Paybarah, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Ali Watkins and Ashley Wong.