NEW YORK – The death toll from the remnants of Hurricane Ida’s stunning blast through the Northeast rose to at least 18 Thursday after a wide swath of the region became overwhelmed by fierce downpours and localized flooding.
At least nine people died in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Five deaths were reported in New Jersey, three in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland.
The downpours turned this city’s streets into rivers and swamped basement and first-floor apartments. The National Weather Service office in New York declared a flash flooding emergency, a rare warning for situations where the flooding is “leading to a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that a travel advisory remained in effect, and that all non-emergency vehicles are 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 carnage comes days after Hurricane Ida barreled ashore Sunday in Louisiana packing 150 mph winds. At least six deaths had been reported earlier, including two each in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Power remained out to almost 1 million Louisiana power customers Thursday.
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, four 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.”
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 a 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 six 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.
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.
Flooding was also reported in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. More than 230,000 homes and businesses in the region were without power Thursday morning.
The region underwater, Amtrak suspended train service between Philadelphia 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’
Over 1650,000 without power across Northeast
More than 75,000 homes and businesses across Pennsylvania were without power Thursday afternoon, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. Another 50,000 were in the dark in New Jersey, and more than 25,000 in New Jersey. Another 15,000 homes and businesses were without power in Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
“Our crews are working around the clock to restore outages and prevent flood damage to electrical equipment in the areas hardest hit by remnants of Ida,” Pennsylvania Power and Light said in a tweet.
Historic rainfall swamps Pennsylvania
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.
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.
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.
New Jersey Transit said almost all train service was suspended.
“All light rail & buses are subject to suspensions, detours, and delays due to widespread weather issues,” the agency tweeted.
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 back in July.
Struggles continue in Louisiana, where Ida’s rage began
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. Biden was scheduled to visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage, the White House said.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: Morgan Hines, Christal Hayes and Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY; Matt Fagan, NorthJersey.com; The Associated Press