At least 49 people died in the Northeast after intense rain, flash floods and tornadoes from the remnants of Hurricane Ida wrecked the region late Wednesday, catching many people off guard. At least 25 people died in New Jersey, and six people were still missing, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s representative said.
In New York, 17 people died in the storm, including 13 in New York City and four in Westchester County. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday that President Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration for 14 counties in the state, including New York City. The designation provides federal funding and assistance to the affected counties.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the city’s actions in the run-up to the storm, saying that the forecasts called for a manageable 3 to 6 inches of rain on Wednesday. That projection was shattered Wednesday evening, with Central Park getting a record 3.15 inches of rain in one hour.
“We did not get an alert that said you’re going to have massive, unprecedented rain on Wednesday night,” he said Friday at a news conference. “We obviously would have answered that with a whole different approach.”
New York City officials issued a travel advisory Tuesday afternoon, warning of a flash flood watch for all of Wednesday into Thursday. As the storm intensified Wednesday evening, New Yorkers also received warnings of flash floods on their cellphones.
The Democratic mayor said the city would take more aggressive steps going forward, issuing travel-ban warnings and evacuation orders before some weather events. Previously, such measures had only been enacted for rare events like a blizzard.
Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, said New Jersey residents received ample warning of potential tornadoes and flash flooding, depending on the part of the state. “The warnings were unequivocal,” he said. “We shouted them out through all the channels you’d expect: social media, the alerts on our phones, our press conferences.”
Tornadoes that roared across South Jersey caused no deaths, and Mr. Murphy attributed that partly to people heeding calls to seek shelter. The deaths in the central and northern parts of the state, he said, were “overwhelmingly due to water, either directly or indirectly, including folks in basement apartments, bless their souls, [and] folks who thought they could drive through a ravine.”
One lesson of Ida, he said, is the need to better emphasize how dangerous heavy rains can be. He urged the news media and government officials at all levels to make sure the public realizes “that water can kill you.”
Philadelphia also faced a long recovery from its worst flooding since the early 1900s, officials said. The Vine Street Expressway, which cuts through the city, still resembled a canal Friday, as crews continued pumping water from the highway. But the Schuylkill River dropped below flood stage.
The water was receding and roadways were being reopened, Mayor Jim Kenney said.
“Big weather events are becoming more and more common in this region, and this is an indicator of the worsening climate crisis world-wide,” Mr. Kenney said.
In Louisiana, where Ida made landfall Sunday as a Category 4 storm, the death toll rose to nine, as three people died of carbon-monoxide poisoning from portable generators and three nursing-home residents died in squalor at a warehouse an hour north of New Orleans, where they had been taken to ride out the storm.
State Medical Director Joe Kanter said more than 800 people had been rescued from the warehouse in Independence, La. They had been evacuated from seven other facilities in southeastern Louisiana that were more squarely in the storm’s path. Those nursing homes were owned by or connected to Baton Rouge businessman Bob Dean, according to the state and federal records. Mr. Dean didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Federal records show these for-profit nursing homes are poorly rated, with most getting just one star on a five-star rating scale.
Dr. Kanter said in a late Thursday news conference that all patients had been evacuated from the warehouse and federal and state investigators were on the scene. Fourteen people were hospitalized.
“There are just no words,” he said.
State and federal investigators are already poring over the warehouse, Dr. Kanter said.
Police officers encircled the warehouse on Friday, keeping guard in the heat. Nearby houses had trees on their roofs; many had mangled porches and storage sheds. The line for gas stretched a mile.
Clinton Thompson, a 61-year-old home renovator, was parked in his pickup truck a few feet from the warehouse as he waited to see his doctor in hopes of getting a prescription refilled.
Mr. Thompson said he had followed the warehouse tragedy on the news. “How does that stuff just go on and people don’t do nothing?” he said. “It’s supposed to be a place where you care for somebody.”
Ida was a storm of epic proportions, with winds topping 150 miles an hour when it made landfall in southeastern Louisiana. It took out houses, trees and utility poles and decimated the electricity grid in southern Louisiana, leaving more than 861,000 people in the state without power Friday, down from more than one million a few days earlier.
Mr. Biden traveled to Louisiana Friday, where he joined Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, for a briefing on the storm with state and local officials.
Mr. Biden, who is seeking passage of an infrastructure bill and a broader $3.5 trillion “build back better” agenda, used part of the meeting to point to the benefits of the plan as Louisiana seeks to recover.
“It seems to me we can save a whole lot of money and a whole lot of pain, pain for our constituents, that if we build back, we build it back in a better way,” Mr. Biden said. “I realize I’m selling as I’m talking, too, but it will create really significant, good-paying jobs.”
Mr. Biden pointed to the resilience of the region’s levee system built after Hurricane Katrina through billions of dollars in federal investment. “That was a lot of money, but think about how much money it saved and how many lives it saved,” he said.
The president later walked through a neighborhood in LaPlace, La., assessing the damage and speaking with families.
Entergy Corp., southern Louisiana’s dominant power provider, released new estimates Friday saying electricity should be restored in New Orleans and hard-hit suburbs Metairie and Kenner by Sept. 8.
In Louisiana, recovery has been a five-day slog in stifling heat. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Friday, as it has for the past several days, warning of a possible heat index of 105 degrees—a reflection of what the temperature feels like when factoring in humidity.
Gasoline continues to be scarce, with 65% of stations in New Orleans and 69% of those in Baton Rouge out of fuel on Friday, according to the fuel-and-price tracker GasBuddy.
In New Orleans, there have been crowds at city cooling stations and lines at sites with food, ice and tarps for roofs. The city has opened an emergency first-aid center with an oxygen tank exchange, basic medical assessments and some ability to prescribe medicine.
Retiree Keith Sanders brought his electric wheelchair to the center to be charged on Thursday. He sat in the shade outside smoking a cigarette, seated in a loaner wheelchair.
“The past few days have been hell,” the 63-year-old said. “All you need to do is marinate me because I’m already cooking.”
The lack of power and hot water has made it virtually impossible to make meals, he said. Mr. Sanders, an amputee, said he needs routine wound care for his leg, but the hospital where he goes has been shut down and his appointments canceled.
He said his daughter, who lives in Texas, emailed the mayor’s office, which helped arrange for him to come to the center to charge his wheelchair. “I was concerned about just getting totally stuck,” he said.
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