NEW YORK (AP) — A stunned U.S. East Coast faced a rising death toll, surging rivers, tornado damage and continuing calls for rescue Thursday after the remnants of Hurricane Ida walloped the region with record-breaking rain, drowning more than two dozen people in their homes and cars.
In a region that had been warned about potentially deadly flash flooding but hadn’t braced for such a blow from the no-longer-hurricane, the storm killed at least 32 people from Maryland to New York on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
At least 12 people died in New York City, police said, one of them in a car and 11 in flooded basement apartments that often serve as relatively affordable homes in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. Suburban Westchester County reported three deaths. Officials said at least 10 people died in New Jersey and at least five in Pennsylvania, including one killed by a falling tree and another who drowned in his car after helping his wife to escape, according to authorities. A Connecticut state police sergeant perished after his cruiser was swept away.
In New York City, Sophy Liu roused her son from bed and put him in a life jacket and inflatable swimming ring as their first-floor apartment flooded in Queens.
Unable to open the door against the force of the water, she called friends for help. The water was nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) high when they came to her rescue, she said.
“I was obviously scared, but I had to be strong for my son. I had to calm him down,” she recalled Thursday as medical examiners removed three bodies from a home down the street.
In another part of Queens, water rapidly filled Deborah Torres’ first-floor apartment to her knees as her landlord frantically urged her neighbors below — who included a baby — to get out, she said. But the water rushed in so strongly that she surmised they weren’t able to open the door. The three residents died.
“I have no words,” she said. “How can something like this happen?”
Ida’s remnants maintained a soggy core, then merged with a more traditional storm front and dropped an onslaught of rain on the Interstate 95 corridor, meteorologists said. Similar weather has followed hurricanes before, but experts said it was slightly exacerbated by climate change — warmer air holds more rain — and urban settings, where expansive pavement prevents water from seeping into the ground.
The National Hurricane Center had warned since Tuesday of the potential for “significant and life-threatening flash flooding” and moderate and major river flooding in the mid-Atlantic region and New England.
Still, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the storm’s strength took them by surprise.
“We did not know that between 8:50 and 9:50 p.m. last night, that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls level of water to the streets of New York,” said Hochul, a Democrat who became governor last week after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned.
De Blasio, also a Democrat, said he’d gotten a forecast Wednesday of 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) of rain over the course of the day. The city’s Central Park ended up getting 3.15 inches just in one hour, surpassing the previous recorded high of 1.94 inches (5 cm) in one hour during Tropical Storm Henri on Aug. 21.