Hurricane Ida brought expected devastation to the Gulf Coast when it came ashore Sunday with Category 4 strength, but the storm inflicted a surprising toll with its remnants in the form of deadly extensive flooding in the Northeast.
The National Weather Service said Wednesday saw the most rainfall on record for La Guardia and Newark, with 6.89 inches and 8.44 inches, respectively. With 7.19 inches, it was the fifth wettest day on record for New York’s Central Park. The Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania crested to levels not seen in more than a century.
“This was an exceedingly rare event with 6-10″ of rainfall falling over a several hour period,” NWS warned after it issued its first flash-flood emergency in history for New York City.
“That says to me that there are no more cataclysmic, unforeseeable events; we need to foresee these in advance and be prepared,” Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters today. “And we learned a lot of lessons from Sandy, we built back resiliency, our coastal shorelines are in much better shape than they had been, but where we have a vulnerability is in our streets with the higher elevations now, where the flash floods — which were unknown before, this is the first time we’ve had a flash flood event of this proportion in the city of New York and in the outlying areas. We haven’t experienced this before, but we should expect it the next time.”
The death toll from Maryland, where a tornado touched down in Annapolis on Tuesday, to Connecticut, where a state trooper died after his vehicle was caught in floodwaters, was at least 45 people, including 11 who were trapped in flooded basement apartments in NYC.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the storm “horrifying” and said officials “need to start communicating to people that we should assume things are going to be much worse in literally every situation” so that warnings based on weather predictions are taken seriously.
“Yesterday morning, the report was three to six inches over the course of the whole day, which was not a particularly problematic amount, that turned into the biggest single hour of rainfall in New York City history with almost no warning,” he said. “So, now we’ve got to change the ground rules. From now on, what I think we do is tell New Yorkers to expect the very, very worst. It may sound alarmist at times, but unfortunately, it’s being proven by nature.”
FEMA Region 3 Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney said in a statement that personnel had been deployed across the region “to support response and recovery operations, as we continue working with all partners to identify needs and assess damage in communities affected by Ida.” More than 1,400 FEMA employees have been assigned to Ida response nationwide.
FEMA said it is expecting “moderate-to-major longer-term flooding” along the larger rivers in the region until later in the week and perhaps into the weekend, particularly in the Schuylkill, Monongahela, Potomac, Susquehanna and Delaware River basins.
“We urge everyone to stay safe after this storm’s impact,” Tierney said. “Closely monitor your local flood conditions and information from local authorities, ensure you have emergency supplies on hand, and check in on neighbors who may need assistance, especially older adults and those with disabilities.”
Ida has been blamed for at least 6 deaths across Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. President Biden is traveling to Louisiana, where crippled areas are experiencing hours-long waits for dwindling gas supplies, on Friday to meet with Gov. John Bel Edwards and local officials.
“I issued emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi to help us respond quickly. FEMA prepositioned more than 4.3 million meals and more than 3 million liters of water, and other critical resources in the region before it hit. We deployed more than 250 generators, and we’re working to getting more into the air, especially to hospitals in desperate need of them,” Biden said today.
“The Department of Health and Human Services deployed a 250-bed federal medical shelter in New Orleans and five medical assistance teams available throughout the state. Since the hurricane hit, more than 6,000 members of the National Guard have been activated in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas, and other states to support search and rescue, and recovery efforts,” he added.
“For those who have lost their homes, states have been working with the American Red Cross to open almost 50 shelters across the Gulf Coast. We know that there is much to be done in this response on our part. We need to get power restored. We need to get more food, fuel, and water deployed. I get hourly updates on the progress from FEMA well into the night, and we’ll be working around the clock until the critical needs of the region are fully met.”