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 46 people died Wednesday and Thursday, state and local officials said. Twenty-three deaths were reported in New Jersey, 16 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 13 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 non-emergency 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.”
Late Thursday, Biden approved an emergency declaration in New York that will allow more federal help for the state.
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.
“We lost pretty much everything,” he said.
In Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, a woman died when a tree fell on her home and two other people drowned, said Valerie Arkoosh, chairperson county Board of Commissioners. And in Maryland, one person died after heavy rains flooded an apartment complex in Rockville.
The storm-weary Delaware Valley region spent much of Thursday cleaning up from Ida’s heavy downpours and severe thunderstorms, while keeping an eye on rivers and creeks that continued to rise even as the clouds parted and Ida moved north.
“It’s nice to be on the riverfront until you’re in the river,” said Morrisville Borough, Pennsylvania, resident Frank McCarthy as he and his wife took a walk with many other pedestrians to view Delaware River flooding first-hand.
Flooding was also reported in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, where an on-duty state police sergeant died after his cruiser was swept away in flood waters early Thursday morning in Woodbury.
The 26-year veteran was working a midnight shift and made a distress call at 3:30 a.m., Col. Stavros Mellekas said Thursday. Police and dive teams responded, located the sergeant’s vehicle but did not locate the sergeant, who officers later found in the river and took to the hospital, Mellekas said.
In western Virginia, search crews also found the body of a person unaccounted for in the flooding. The Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the death late Wednesday as a result of flooding in the Guesses Fork area of Hurley.
More than 127,000 homes and businesses in the region were without power Thursday afternoon.
The region underwater, Amtrak suspended train service between Washington and Boston for departures scheduled before noon Thursday. Hundreds of flights and trains were canceled Thursday morning, and the Federal Aviation Administration advised travelers to be aware of the evolving situation.
“Flooding continues to affect parts of the Northeast and New England today. Remember to check with your airline for your flight status before leaving home. Do not drive through flooded roadways,” the FAA said on Twitter.
NYC subway status in flux
Subway stations and tracks became so flooded that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended all service. Videos posted online showed subway riders standing on seats in cars filled with water.
Although the rain had ended overnight, 21 areas of the New York City subway system still had some flooding as of 6 a.m., acting MTA Chairman Janno Lieber told NY1. Pumping was continuing, and subway service should increase, but Lieber declined to predict when the system would return to full service.
“Service across our system is extremely limited as we work to recover from last night’s heavy rainfall and flooding,” MTA said in a 9:31 a.m. notice on its website. “Arrivals and travel times in our apps and websites may not be accurate. Please avoid all unnecessary travel at this time.”
Here’s what you need to know about flash floods: ‘They can occur in all 50 states’
Historic rainfall swamps Pennsylvania
Ida could go down as one of the wettest storms to go through central Pennsylvania, according to the National Weather Service. Some areas reported more than 6 inches of rain, flooding roads and overflowing creeks. The region had a number of warnings or watches for tornadoes, thunderstorms and flash floods.
In Philadelphia, Schuylkill River flooding forced officials to close parts of the Vine Street Expressway and Schuylkill Expressway, two major commuter arteries. Across the state, about 3,000 people were evacuated near the city of Johnstown – where the Great Flood of 1889 killed more than 2,000 – after heavy rains threatened a local dam. And 40 kids and their driver had to be rescued from a school bus trapped in high water in Shaler Township outside Pittsburgh.
On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf urged residents to have patience as state and local emergency officials continued damage assessments.
“We have a long road ahead of us,” Wolf said. “We experienced a historic storm here.”
New Jersey airport, public transit struggle
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Jarring footage showed water inside Newark Liberty International Airport and water rushing into baggage facilities. The airport announced on Twitter that it had suspended all flight activity as of 10:30 p.m. Limited flights began a couple of hours later.
“Due to the holiday weekend and the recovery from tropical storm Ida, please allow extra time when traveling through Newark Airport,” the airport tweeted Thursday afternoon.
New Jersey Transit said almost all train service was suspended. Buses and light rail were operating with “significant” cancellations, detours and delays, and other rail line service was expected to resume Friday, the agency said in a tweet.
In Passaic, the man who died was one of three occupants in a submerged car. Firefighters managed to rescue the man’s 66-year-old wife and their 26-year-old son. The names of all those involved have yet to be released.
Authorities were searching for a woman and her baby – who may have been swept up in the same culvert that carried away a 24-year-old DoorDash driver in July.
Struggles continue in Louisiana, where Ida’s rage began
Meanwhile, some lights were finally coming back on in New Orleans. The power was on before dawn Thursday in the city’s central business district, Uptown, Midtown, New Orleans East and the Carrollton area, the electricity company Entergy announced. Utility crews also restored power to Ochsner’s main hospital campus in Jefferson Parish and several hospitals near Baton Rouge. City crews completely cleared some New Orleans streets of fallen trees and debris, and a few corner stores reopened.
Outside New Orleans, neighborhoods remained flooded and residents were still in the dark. More than 1,200 people were walking through some of Ida’s hardest-hit communities to look for those needing help, according to the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s office. President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage, the White House said.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia, and Hauck from Chicago. Contributing: Morgan Hines, Christal Hayes and Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY; Matt Fagan, NorthJersey.com; Crissa Shoemaker DeBree, Bucks County Courier Times; The Associated Press