Climate

At least 42 dead after Ida batters Northeast with record rain and floods

Phil Helsel and Wilson Wong
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At least 14 people killed in New York and New Jersey flooding

At least 42 people were killed as the remnants of Hurricane Ida battered the Northeast with tornadoes, record rain and flooding that left the area deluged and under states of emergency on Thursday.

Videos on social media showed cars submerged on highways and water pouring into subway stations and homes after a wind-driven downpour shattered rainfall records and prompted an unprecedented flash flood emergency for New York City.

Four women, three men and a 2-year-old boy died in separate flooding incidents in the city, police said. All eight victims lived in Queens and died in the basements of residential homes, according to New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday evening that the death toll in the New York City area had risen to 13.

"We're seeing some of the most unbelievable and heartbreaking images from around our city," de Blasio said. "This is a tragic loss for our city."

NBC New York reported another three deaths were confirmed Thursday afternoon in the same neighborhood where the toddler and two others were found dead.

In New Jersey, 23 people were killed, including four residents at the Oakwood Plaza Apartments complex in Elizabeth, four people in Somerset County, one person whose body was recovered in Passaic and one who was found in South Plainfield. Of the four residents, three were family members, aged 72, 71 and 38, and the other was a 33-year-old female neighbor, Elizabeth spokesperson Kelly Martins said Thursday.

Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Thursday afternoon of nine additional deaths, increasing the state's grim death tally to 23.

"I am saddened to report that, as of right now, at least 23 New Jerseyans have lost their life to this storm. The majority of these deaths were individuals who got caught in their vehicles by flooding and were overtaken by the water. Our prayers are with their family members," Murphy said in the tweet.

A worker unblocks drains on a street affected by floodwater in Brooklyn, New York early on September 2, 2021, as flash flooding and record-breaking rainfall brought by the remnants of Storm Ida swept through the area.
Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images

The victims, whose names were not immediately released by authorities, were reportedly found on the first floor of the apartment but it was unclear if they were found inside or outside the apartment.

A Somerset County spokesperson said two of the fatalities were in Hillsborough and two were in Bridgewater Township. The two people in Hillsborough died in submerged vehicles in separate incidents, according to the official. The two who died in Bridgewater Township were traveling in a vehicle when they came across floodwaters. They exited the vehicle and were swept away by floodwaters, the county spokesperson said.

In Passaic, firefighters recovered the body from a vehicle that went underwater when it was caught in floodwaters near the Passaic River, the town's mayor said.

Authorities in South Plainfield said they heard cries from a female pedestrian about a friend being swept into a 36-inch storm sewer pipe Wednesday night. They later learned two men were swept into the pipe, according to the office of Mayor Matt Anesh. One was saved, but authorities Thursday morning discovered the body of 31-year-old Edison resident Dhanush Reddy in a wooded area in Piscataway, officials said.

And in the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County, there were at least three storm-related fatalities, Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said. Details on the victims and how they died were not released.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters that officials were still assessing the damage and "uncovering the true depth of the loss."

"I don't want this to happen again," she said during a news conference Thursday. "We haven't experienced this before, but we should expect it the next time."

Hochul pledged investments in infrastructure after the city was issued its first flash flood emergency warning Wednesday night. The governor previously declared a state of emergency, which allows for state aid.

In New York City, officials urged nonemergency vehicles to stay off the streets after a "travel ban" ended at 5 a.m. ET.

Central Park and Newark, New Jersey, each saw more than 3 inches of rain in one hour — the most ever recorded in an hour there, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said.

The daily rainfall total at Central Park was 7.13 inches Wednesday, breaking the previous record of 3.84 inches set in 1927, according to the National Weather Service. Meanwhile, Newark logged 8.41 inches of rain, surpassing its record of 2.22 inches in 1959.

Between 6 and 10 inches of rain fell over several hours, the National Weather Service said, and New York City streets were inundated with water.

The weather and flooding brought New York transit to a near standstill, with service suspended or severely limited across the subway system.

A rare tornado warning was issued for the Bronx and parts of Westchester on Wednesday night, while flights at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark Liberty airports were disrupted.

Dozens of matches at the U.S. Open were postponed earlier Wednesday as rain ripped through New York City. A video showed spectators struggling to reach cover as heavy rain and strong winds pummeled one of the tournament's stadiums.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell told CNN Thursday there was "widespread damage that we're seeing from Ida in the Northeast," adding that the agency would begin assessing how severe the damage was to determine long-term recovery needs.

Murphy said during a news conference earlier Thursday that the past 24 hours in New Jersey have been "extraordinary" and "sadly tragic." The governor added that recovery efforts would "take some time."

Murphy previously declared a state of emergency due to the severe weather. "Stay off the roads, stay home, and stay safe," he said.

Passaic Mayor Hector C. Lora also declared a state of emergency, one of several area cities to do so. He livestreamed the scene as cars were submerged up to their headlights in a flooded section of the city of around 70,000. Some cars were struck in the middle of the street.

Passaic Deputy Chief of Police Louis Gentile said that all kinds of vehicles had gotten stuck, and warned residents not to be fooled by thinking they have a powerful car.

"We have fire trucks stuck, we have ambulances stuck, we have people that are still stuck and not getting out of the water," he said. "It's very serious."

First responders pull local residents in a boat as they perform rescues of people trapped by floodwaters after the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida brought drenching rain, flash floods and tornadoes to parts of the northeast in Mamaroneck, New York, September 2, 2021.
Mike Segar | Reuters

At least 600 people were displaced in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and they are trying to find accommodations, according to the city's mayor, J. Christian Bollwage. City officials have a relocation team moving people to school auditoriums and working with senators, congress and state senators in order to find vacant hotel rooms in the region, he said.

"This is a real tragedy when human life is lost," Bollwage said. "A lot of people are looking at their property and saying that things are really bad here yet the four people who passed away and their families are paying an ultimate sacrifice in a very dangerous flood that occurred very, very quickly."

He added that it would take weeks to months to rehabilitate the buildings damaged by the floodwaters in Elizabeth.

At least four tornadoes touched down in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, NBC Philadelphia reported. One destroyed at least nine homes in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, where firefighters and first responders searched the neighborhood for possible victims that may have been trapped in the rubble.

"Every house we've checked, they're safe," one firefighter told the news station.

New Jersey Transit suspended all rail service Wednesday night and Thursday, while Amtrak suspended all trains between Washington, D.C., and Boston Thursday.

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Tornadoes destroy homes in Jersey

The severe weather occurred as Post-Tropical Cyclone Ida, which hit Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, was causing heavy rainfall in the region.

The hurricane and its remnants knocked out power to hundreds of thousands in Louisiana and Mississippi, the states hardest hit by Ida.

On Thursday morning, the St. James Parish Sheriff's Office said authorities found a man inside his home in South Vacherie, Louisiana, after responded to a 911 call — bringing the death toll in the South from seven to eight. No other details were released, but a preliminary investigation found that the man died "during Hurricane Ida."

Soaking rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida prompted the evacuations of thousands of people Wednesday after water reached dangerous levels at a dam near Johnstown, a Pennsylvania town nicknamed Flood City.

Some areas near Johnstown, whose history includes several deadly floods, saw 5 inches or more of rain by midafternoon, an inundation that triggered an evacuation order for those downstream from the Wilmore dam.

Cambria County emergency management director and 911 center head Art Martynuska said the water level at the Wilmore dam reached a height that required evacuation.

Vehicles are under water during flooding in Philadelphia, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 in the aftermath of downpours and high winds from the remnants of Hurricane Ida that hit the area.
Matt Rourke | AP

Nearby Hinckston Run Dam was also being monitored but appeared stable by late afternoon, he said, by which time water levels at Wilmore dam were receding.

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania said he was sending emergency responders to Bucks County, including National Guard high-water vehicles and an urban search-and-rescue team, in the southeastern past of the state following tornadoes and flooding.

Johnson, of the National Weather Service's office in Mount Holly, New Jersey, which also covers Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania, said there were reports of as much as 7 inches of rain Wednesday.

Daylight footage shows the devastation in Philadelphia, where rivers overflowed and highways flooded after Ida soaked the area.

In Maryland, a 19-year-old man died after flooding that displaced 150 people from an apartment building Wednesday morning, police said. There was also a suspected tornado that caused damage in Annapolis.

In Connecticut, a state trooper was killed when his car swept away in floodwaters early Thursday morning.