Storm Ida: Death toll climbs to 45 across four US north-east states

Published
Media caption,
The record rainfall caused flash flooding in New York City

US President Joe Biden says "historic investment" is needed to deal with the climate crisis, as the north-east reels from flash flooding and tornadoes that have killed at least 45 people.

The US is facing climate-related destruction across the country and tackling it is "a matter of life and death", the president said.

New York City and New Jersey saw unprecedented levels of rainfall.

Some residents became trapped in flooded basements and cars.

Six states suffered loss of life:

  • New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said at least 23 people had died in his state - most of them stuck in their vehicles as the waters rose
  • At least 14 people lost their lives in New York City, including a two-year-old boy. Eleven of them drowned while trapped in their flooded basements, officials said
  • Five people died in Pennsylvania, while a state trooper in Connecticut was swept away as he responded to a call
  • Deaths were also reported in Maryland and Virginia

President Biden has declared an emergency in both New Jersey and New York, enabling both states to receive federal funding to support local disaster relief efforts.

The impact of climate change on the frequency of storms is still unclear, but we know that increased sea surface temperatures warm the air above and make more energy available to drive hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons. As a result, they are likely to be more intense with more extreme rainfall.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey, are recovering from the storm

The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions.

'Niagara Falls level of water'

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticised weather experts, saying their forecasts were being "made a mockery of in a matter of minutes". He said he had been warned to expect between three and six inches (7.5 and 15cm) of rain over the course of the day. However a record 3.15 inches fell in Central Park in just one hour.

"The suddenness, the brutality of storms now, it is different," he said, adding that the latest extreme weather was "the biggest wake-up call".

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said: "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."

Image source, Mullica Hill Living
Image caption,
New Jersey's largest dairy farm suffered extensive damage

Residents have been assessing the damage to property.

One man in Flushing, New York, said his house was prone to flooding "but what I saw last night is unimaginable". "I have never seen water coming in all directions," Tedla Asfaw, 60, told the BBC. "There's huge damage here. It's a big hit for us."

In New Jersey, a tornado flattened the state's largest dairy farm, ripping roofs off buildings and toppling several large silos.

Many cows were trapped under fallen sheds and some died, the owners of Wellacrest Farm wrote on their Facebook page. "Along with the devastating loss of homes in our neighbourhoods - we, as a community, suffered a great loss with the destruction of our farm."

In New York, some 835 people had to be rescued from stranded subway trains, police said on Thursday, after social media pictures showed water gushing into underground stations and tunnels.

Other footage showed cars floating down flooded roads, with cries of "help" being heard from inside. Nearly 500 vehicles were abandoned in New York, the Associated Press says.

Passengers on trains, planes and buses have been describing finding themselves stuck for hours without moving as the flooding made travelling impossible.

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'One of the great challenges of our time'

President Biden said the unprecedented flooding in the region, along with the destruction brought by Hurricane Ida to Louisiana and Mississippi and wildfires in the West, were "yet another reminder that these extreme storms in the climate crisis are here".

He said he would be pushing Congress for action on his Build Back Better plan, which would see "historic investment" in infrastructure, including modernising roads and bridges and improving energy grids, water and sewage systems.

"This destruction is everywhere," he said. "It's a matter of life and death and we are all in this together. This is one of the great challenges of our time but I'm confident we will meet it.

The president will visit Louisiana on Friday to assess what is being done to help the state, which became the first to face Hurricane Ida when it made landfall on Sunday. More than 900,000 homes remain without power in the state.

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