An earlier version of this report said Phil Murphy was the governor of Pennsylvania. He is New Jersey's governor.
For New York officials, the storm’s onslaught sounded the alarms for the need of aggressive moves to adapt to a changing climate. The state’s governor, Kathy Hochul (D), said at a Thursday briefing that she would be “demanding answers.”
“I want to know who knew what when and what could have been done differently — because New Yorkers deserve to know what we’re doing to learn from this event and make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” she said.
With streets morphing into rivers and basements apartments flooding, first responders scrambled to rescue those stranded by the deluge. As the day progressed, recovery efforts revealed a swelling death toll.
At least 16 people have been reported dead in New York City, mainly in the Queens borough, as New Jersey officials confirmed on Thursday that its death toll had risen to 23. Nearby states Pennsylvania and Connecticut also confirmed fatalities, reporting four and one respectively.
Since making landfall midday Sunday near Port Fourchon, La., as a Category 4 hurricane, Ida has killed at least 60 people across six states, knocking out electricity for more than 1 million people, flooding homes and collapsing buildings.
Yet, it was after downgrading to a tropical storm some 1,200 miles from where it first breached the country that Ida became more deadly. In the Gulf Coast, it left a death toll of 16 people, 12 of them in Louisiana, a state still grappling with the aftermath of Katrina. As Ida pummeled the Northeast, the death toll more than doubled — baffling officials and underscoring the need for improved infrastructure and preparedness.
In a news conference Thursday, state and local leaders in New York pointedly underlined the role of climate change in the historic storm, vowing to learn from this event and shore up infrastructure ahead of future storms.
“This is the first time we’ve had a flash flood event of this proportion,” Hochul said. “We haven’t experienced this before but we should expect it the next time.”
She called for an “after-action report” on the state’s preparedness ahead of this storm.
While the rainfall’s ferocity raised questions of what could have been done to prevent the havoc, responders have steadily answered calls about flooding that have ended in confirmed deaths.
In Flushing, Queens, police found a 50-year-old man, 48-year-old woman and 2-year-old boy unresponsive inside their home. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.
A 48-year-old Forest Hills area Queens woman, a 66-year-old Brooklyn man and an 86-year-old Elmhurst area Queens resident also died, officials said.
Some 29 miles away from Queens, a 69-year-old man was confirmed dead by Westchester County officials after his car was swept by the storm.
Samuel Weissmandl of Mount Kisco was traveling home Wednesday night from Rockland County when he called his relatives to say he was having difficulty in the storm, Westchester County’s communications director, Catherine Cioffi, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
After his family did not hear back from him, a police search operation was launched Thursday. Elmsford Police officials found Weissmandl’s vehicle submerged by the Saw Mill River Parkway ramp’s entrance.
In Westchester County, two other individuals have died, Cioffi said.
The torrent also battered Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware.
In addition to knocking out power and causing flooding in Pennsylvania, Ida’s wrath resulted in three storm-related deaths in Montgomery County, Pa., according to Valerie Arkoosh, chair of that county’s board of commissioners.
In Connecticut, a sudden swell of water resulted in the death of Brian Mohl, a state police sergeant, a spokesperson for the Connecticut State Police confirmed to The Washington Post.
The 26-year-veteran state trooper was killed during an overnight shift when water swept away his vehicle near Woodbury. He sent a distress alert to Troop L around 3:30 a.m. Thursday, but emergency personnel were unable to reach him in time. He was found submerged in the Pomperaug River’s waters around 9 a.m. and was en route to Yale New Haven Hospital when he died.
“A trooper of 26 years has given his life for our greater good. I was telling everybody, ‘Stay safe, stay home, let’s ride out this storm.’ That’s not what you do as a trooper,” said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) at a news conference.
The storm dumped over half a foot of rain across Connecticut — prompting Lamont to declare a state of emergency.
In Wilmington, Del., the Brandywine River crested at 23 feet, its highest level on record, inundating swaths of the city’s northeast. Firefighters shuttled up and down residential streets in airboats and Zodiacs, helping residents out of their second-story windows. They rescued some 200 people, seven of whom were hospitalized with injuries, none critical, authorities said.
Surveying the wreckage Thursday afternoon from a bridge over the Brandywine, Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) told The Post he was proud of the rescue efforts, but he grew pensive when asked about the state’s future as the climate changes.
“We are, I think, the lowest-lying state in the country,” he said. “Obviously with sea rise, we’re going to continue to see problems.”
Wilmington had invested in infrastructure to protect flood-prone areas along the Christina River, which floods more commonly, he said. Yet this storm brought flooding to a neighborhood that was less prepared for it, swamping storefronts, major intersections and portions of a park dedicated to the bebop trumpeter Clifford Brown.
Speaking ahead of his Friday trip to Louisiana, President Biden said his team told governors in states harmed most by Ida that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is available to provide as much assistance as possible.
Top Biden adviser Cedric L. Richmond, a former Louisiana lawmaker, will also be taking a lead in helping residents in his home state recover from the storms. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has been called upon to use tools such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to continue gas flow to the pumps to get critical supplies to the region.
In Louisiana, lights came back on at the Superdome and parts of the French Quarter — two of New Orleans’ best-known landmarks — as local energy officials pointed to continued progress in restoring power to a city plunged into darkness since Ida hit Sunday. But even as there were glowing lights along Bourbon Street, and the city’s famed St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square was lit again, there were signs of desperation only blocks away, as residents roamed the streets in search of food and gas.
In New York City, Amtrak said Thursday evening that it would resume service on Friday. But as the skies opened up, the devastation over the awe-striking event surfaced above the retreated waters. At least two buildings had partial collapses that killed two people. Water gushed over windows in apartments trapping people. The trauma over the unprecedented event is still felt by some.
Nearby, Jamaica Queens resident Gilbert Dofredo waited for first responders to pump water from his basement.
Dofredo, who has lived on his street for nearly 43 years, said the road has flooded several times in the past. “It’s because the block is a basin,” he said, noting that over the past year, the city has been rehabilitating the storm sewers. “I think it’s even worse than before,” he said.