Aftermath of Hurricane Ida kills more than 40 in Northeast

Delivers a deadly reminder that as the climate changes, weather once considered freakish now strikes with regularity.


National News

September 2, 2021 - 8:54 PM

Floodwater surrounds vehicles following heavy rain on an expressway in Brooklyn, New York early on Thursday, 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/TNS)

As Ida’s deadly waters receded Thursday from subway stations and roads, playgrounds and apartments, stunned residents of New York and New Jersey confronted their vulnerability as the old norms of weather no longer apply.

The remnants of a hurricane that first hammered distant New Orleans unleashed a torrent intense enough to kill at least 40 people across the Northeast, to paralyze the nation’s largest and wealthiest city, to halt its lifeblood transit system and conjure a future where residents and economy are constrained by recurrent disasters.

New York and its suburbs, which rebuilt power grids, subways and tunnels after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy flooded lower Manhattan, were paralyzed again. Roads were closed, commuter rail was hobbled and hundreds of flights were canceled. But lasting damage to infrastructure appeared far less this time.

Only 170,000 homes and businesses remained without electricity by noon Eastern time Thursday, according to Airports were open, though at reduced capacity. Officials promised to have subways running at something like normal service by the evening.

But the storm and its death toll are grim reminders that as the climate changes, weather once considered freakish strikes with regularity, threatening the viability of all coastal economic centers.

“The future threat we spoke about in dire terms, that future is now — it’s happening,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a briefing Thursday. “We’re losing lives, we’re losing property and we can’t continue down this path.”

A man uses garbage bags to keep his pants and feet dry as he crosses a flooded Lester Street on September 2, 2021 in Passaic City, N.J. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

The summer has already brought deadly flooding in Tennessee and Germany, heat waves shattering all-time temperature records in western Canada, and wildfires raging in California and Greece.

Ida’s parting hit on New York and the Northeast likely pushed the storm’s overall economic losses and damages into the $50 billion to $60 billion range, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. This would place it fifth on the list of the most costly hurricanes to hit the U.S., behind Katrina, Harvey, Maria and Sandy.

Its path through the Northeast had been predicted for days, but its strength was a surprise. The storm collided with the jet stream at the hottest time of the day, when the air was already unstable, said Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

An area from eastern Pennsylvania to southern New England, including New York, got as much as 8 inches of rain in a few hours. In Central Park, 3.15 inches fell in one hour, setting a record, Taylor said.

“It was the perfect set-up for extreme rainfall, and unfortunately, it happened over one of the most populous corridors of the United States,” Taylor said.

Most residents didn’t see it coming, sometimes with fatal consequences. On the Gulf Coast, Ida killed at least five people. In the Northeast, a weakened storm killed at least eight times that many.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio early Thursday said the storm killed people “who were alive at this exact moment yesterday, with no idea that such a horrible fate could befall them,” he said. In the borough of Queens, three members of the same family died in their basement apartment.

By afternoon, officials said the city’s death toll had reached 13 and could climb.

In Hillsborough Township, New Jersey, where many roads remained submerged, Gov. Phil Murphy said the storm had claimed at least 23 lives across his state. Most died in vehicles, he said. Four people were found dead in an Elizabeth apartment complex. Residents said Thursday that the water rose rapidly.

“It was terrible,” said Yvette Baker, 34. “The water was so high. They had one rowboat trying to save all these people. People were screaming for help.”