At least 44 people have died across the northeast after the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped apocalyptic amounts of rain along the East Coast on Wednesday night, spawning tornados, transport meltdowns, building collapses and unprecedented flash flooding.
Twelve people died in New York City, police said, eight of whom became trapped in flooded basements in homes across Queens. A 2-year-old child was among three people found dead when firefighters “de-watered” a basement apartment after a sidewall collapsed, New York Fire Department spokesman Frank Dwyer said. Three were killed in nearby Westchester County. In New Jersey, at least 23 people have died including four people found in an Elizabeth apartment complex swamped with eight feet of water. Another five people were reported dead in Pennsylvania.
“The majority of these deaths were individuals who got caught in their vehicles by flooding and were overtaken by the water,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a tweet on Thursday afternoon.
In Passaic, New Jersey, a 70-year-old man died when his car was swept away. “His family was rescued, they were all in the same car,” Mayor Hector Lora told WCBS-TV. “Unfortunately, the car was overtaken by the waters, and the firefighters who were being dragged down under the vehicle were unable to get him out.” Firefighters in Passaic “will be going into the river to attempt to locate bodies” of two young adults feared to have been swept away, Lora told CNN.
Tornados tore through the Philadelphia area, killing several people, including a woman whose home was hit by a falling tree.
A state of emergency has been extended in New York City and New Jersey after once-a-century rainstorms swept the metro area, flooding subway stations, basements, and cars. Hundreds of people were rescued from cars, according to Dwyer, who said many were swept off roads. One man was found dead in the backseat of a car in Brooklyn on Thursday morning, authorities said.
Gilbert Dofredo, an 82-year-old retired nurse, lives next door to a home in Jamaica, Queens where a 22-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman were found dead in their flooded basement on Wednesday night.
“Our block is like a basin, so all the water came down here,” Dofredo told The Daily Beast. He said the storm hit hard around 10 p.m., and “all of a sudden, I saw the street flooding. I had to protect my house too, I got busy.”
Water was coming in through cracks in Dofredo’s walls, but he said his house is elevated, which protected it from the worst of the damage. However, the neighbors’ house is not raised above street level, which Dofredo said is likely why their basement filled up so quickly.
“Somebody called 911 and the firemen were here, suctioning the water from the home,” said Dofredo. “I’m lucky, I have a little pump I used to drain my water, [which was] about knee-deep. I did not sleep much. I was really exhausted… It was about 4 or 5 hours of pumping. I have not seen my basement yet today, I am about to go down and check.”
In a near identical situation, another three people were found dead in the basement apartment of another Queens building. “The water pressure was so fast and strong, so I think they couldn’t open the door either way because this is like a pool,” Deborah Torres, a first-floor resident who had knee-deep flooding, told the AP. “I don’t know how that happened. It was so fast.”
In New Jersey, the roof of a postal sorting plant in Kearny collapsed with people inside, the Associated Press reported. Police have not announced any fatalities or the extent of any injuries suffered as they work to rescue those trapped inside. In Rahway, a house exploded during the storm, sending debris raining down on neighbors. It’s not clear if anyone was inside at the time.
Videos showed cars trapped on flooded highway, and people being rescued from the roofs of homes. Harrison Township’s fire department reported multiple victims trapped in their homes, according to NJ.com.
At least 10 tornadoes were reported to have touched down in the Philadelphia area as torrential rains caused the Delaware River to reach a 10-year high water level. Major flooding was also reported along the Schuylkill River in the city. Tornadoes also touched down in New Jersey and Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.
Not far away, in Rockville, police say a 19-year-old man died. He had returned to a flooded apartment in search of his mother, according to local reports, which identified him as Melkin Daniel Cedillo.
Cedillo worked at a local restaurant, the Iron Age Korean Steakhouse. A coworker who spoke to The Daily Beast on Thursday described Cedillo as “a super nice kid” who had been at the eatery for about a year and change.
“Just the sweetest, hardest-working kid I’ve ever met,” said the coworker, who asked not to be named out of sensitivity to the family. “Always had a smile on his face.”
The National Weather Service had issued an unprecedented flash-flood warning for New York City and parts of New Jersey, warning more than 9 million residents of imminent danger. “This particular warning for NYC is the second time we’ve ever issued a Flash Flood Emergency (It’s the first one for NYC),” the National Weather Service tweeted.
According to NBC New York, the ensuing rainfall broke the record for the single heaviest hour of precipitation on Central Park, with 3.15 inches. The previous record, 1.94 inches, was set just a weekend earlier—during Hurricane Henri.
Videos showed multiple subway stations flooding, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended train service on all lines across the entire city at the height of the downpour.
The MTA issued a disclaimer on its website: “Train service may be extremely limited tonight because of heavy rainfall and flooding across the region. We strongly recommend you avoid traveling at this time, if you can.”
Amtrak canceled its service along the Northeast Corridor between Philadelphia and Boston, and several flights have been canceled or diverted due to flooding at Newark Airport.
Ida hit Louisiana with extreme force earlier in the week, knocking out power and telecommunications for more than a million people and killing at least four people.
Last month, the United Nations said climate change left unchecked would continue to spawn extreme weather events in a scathing climate report, warning, “the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events have increased since the 1950s over most land area.”