MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey--Flash flooding killed at least 26 people in the Northeast as remnants of Hurricane Ida unleashed torrential rains that swept away cars, submerged New York City subway lines and grounded airline flights, officials said on Thursday.
Across large swaths of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, residents spent the day coping with water-logged basements, power outages, damaged roofs and calls for help from friends and family members stranded by flooding.
At least 12 New York City residents lost their lives, along with nine in metropolitan New Jersey. Among the fatalities, three people died in a basement in the New York City borough of Queens, while four residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey, perished at a public housing complex that was flooded by 8 feet of water.
Roadways were transformed into river-like torrents in minutes as the downpours struck on Wednesday night, trapping drivers in quickly rising floodwaters. In Somerset County, New Jersey, at least four motorists were killed, officials said.
"Sadly, more than a few folks have passed as a result of this," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said at a briefing in Mullica Hill in the southern part of the state, where a tornado ripped apart several homes.
The damage came three days after Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast, made landfall on Sunday in Louisiana, destroying entire communities. But the loss of life in the Northeast dwarfed the confirmed storm-related death toll of nine in Louisiana.
In Conshohocken, outside Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River inundated hotels, warehouses and condominiums that line the river. Emergency squads were waiting for the waters to recede on Thursday before starting evacuations of possibly hundreds of people who live in nearby apartments, officials said.
Four people died in suburban Philadelphia as a result of the storm, according to county spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco. And a Connecticut state trooper perished after his cruiser was swept away in floodwaters in the town of Woodbury early Thursday, state police said.
Video footage on the Weather Channel showed flames billowing from a house in the riverfront town of Manville, New Jersey, where flooding prevented access by fire trucks. The house next door appeared to have burned down to the waterline on a street where parked cars were submerged.
Ida's remnants brought 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) of rain to a swath of the Northeast from Philadelphia to Connecticut and set an hourly rainfall record of 3.15 inches for Manhattan, breaking one set less than two weeks ago, the National Weather Service said. The 7.13 inches of rain that fell in New York City on Wednesday was the city's fifth-highest daily amount, it said.
New York officials blamed much of flooding on the high volume of rainfall in a short span of time, rather than the daily total, which was within predictions. "Because of climate change, unfortunately, this is something we're going to have to deal with great regularity,” said Kathy Hochul, New York's newly inaugurated governor.
The number of disasters, such as floods and heat waves, driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 50 years, according to a report released earlier this week by the World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said the federal government stood ready to provide "all the assistance that's needed."
The governors of New York and New Jersey, who declared emergencies in their states on Wednesday, urged residents to stay home as crews worked to clear roadways and restore service to subways and commuter rail lines serving millions of residents.
"Right now my street looks more like a lake," said Lucinda Mercer, 64, as she peered out her apartment window in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York.
Subway service in New York City remained "extremely limited" and was not likely to be restored until later in the day, transit officials said. Commuter rail service to the city's northern suburbs, most New Jersey Transit rail lines and Amtrak passenger service between Philadelphia and Boston were canceled. About 370 flights were canceled at New Jersey's Newark Liberty Airport.
Mark Haley of Summit, New Jersey, said getting home after a 15-minute drive to a bowling alley to celebrate his daughter's sixth birthday on Wednesday night became a six-hour slog through floodwaters that frequently blocked his route. "When we got out, it was a war zone,” said Haley, 50, a fitness trainer. When he made it home, he found almost 2 feet (0.6 m) of water in his basement.