At least nine people are now dead as remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped record rainfall on New York City, causing flooding in homes, streets and portions of the subway in an event one local politician described as “biblical.”
“NYC is seeing a biblical amount of rain. Again. There isn't a sewer system on the planet that can handle this much water at this rate – certainly not our ancient sewers here in New York City, some of which are still made of brick! Someday we'll make infrastructure sexy again,” New York City Council Member Justin Brannan tweeted as rain barreled through the boroughs Wednesday night.
After leaving a trail of devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi this week, the weather system from Ida forced the New York office of the National Weather Service to issue its first Flash Flood Emergency warning which is issued only for “exceedingly rare situations when a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage from a flash flood is happening or will happen soon,” according to the NWS.
And damage it did.
As the rainfall records shattered overnight, dramatic videos of flooded homes, streets and the subway began emerging on social media including one showing a large rat struggling to swim. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a local state of emergency shortly before 11:30 p.m., calling the rain a “historic weather event.”
“We’re enduring an historic weather event tonight with record breaking rain across the city, brutal flooding and dangerous conditions on our roads,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Gov. Kathy Hochul later declared a state of emergency for the counties of Bronx, Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester.
"Torrential rainfall has resulted in flash flooding, power outages, travel disruptions and damage in impacted areas posing a threat to public health and safety,” Hochul said. "This State of Emergency eliminates potential hurdles for local response activities and provides the necessary tools to make sure New Yorkers can quickly and safely recover.”
The New York Police Department reported that at least seven of the nine confirmed deaths occurred in Queens, including a 2-year-old boy and his parents who drowned in their basement apartment on 64th Street in Woodside.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who represents New York’s 14th congressional district, which includes the eastern part of The Bronx and part of north-central Queens, said some of the deceased were from her district and she would be assessing the impact of the storm in the area.
“I will be canvassing the district today assessing the impact from last night’s catastrophic flooding. Tragically, we lost several community members last night. Please check in on your neighbors - especially those in low-level apartments,” she tweeted Thursday.
On Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez said the historic flooding pointed to a need to take the Green New Deal, her proposal for tackling climate change, more seriously.
“Experiencing all this flooding in NYC right now and thinking about all the politicians who told me that pursuing a Green New Deal to adapt our nat’l infrastructure to climate change is ‘unrealistic’ & ‘too expensive.’ As if doing too little is the responsible, adult thing to do?” she wrote in a statement on Twitter.
Between 4 a.m. Wednesday and 4 a.m. Thursday, the NWS recorded 7.19 inches of rain in Central Park. Some 3.1 inches of that measurement fell over the course of an hour and New York City recorded more rain on Wednesday than it normally records in a month.
“This is going down as a historic event,” Nelson Vaz, a meteorologist, told The New York Times.