Ida pummeled Louisiana with some of the strongest winds ever to hit the US state, damaging homes, schools and hospitals.
A stunned US East Coast has awoken on Thursday to a rising death toll, surging rivers and destruction from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which walloped the region with record-breaking rain days after hitting the Gulf Coast as one of the strongest hurricanes on record to strike the US.
In a region that had not expected a serious blow from the no-longer-hurricane, the storm killed at least 45 people from Maryland to New York on Wednesday night as basement apartments suddenly filled with water, rivers and creeks swelled to record levels and roadways turned into car-swallowing canals.
At least 12 people died in New York City, many when they became trapped in flooded basements, police and Mayor Bill de Blasio said. At least 23 died in New Jersey, including four people who were found dead in an apartment complex in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Pennsylvania officials reported at least five deaths in that state. And a 19-year-old man was killed after flooding at a Rockville, Maryland, apartment complex early Wednesday, police said.
More than one million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi remained without power after Ida toppled a major transmission tower and knocked out thousands of miles of lines and hundreds of substations. New Orleans was plunged into total darkness; power began returning to parts of the city on Wednesday.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged to help those affected by the storm. He also said he will visit Louisiana on Friday to survey some of the damage.
“My message to the people in the Gulf Coast who I am going to visit tomorrow: we are here for you and we’re making sure the response and recovery is equitable so those hit hardest can get the resources they need and are not left behind,” Biden said.
Biden said the flooding in Louisiana was less than the region experienced during Hurricane Katrina, crediting federal investments in the area’s levee system. “It held, it was strong, it worked,” he said during remarks at the White House.
“We know that there is much to be done in this response on our part,” Biden added. “We need to get power restored. We need to get more food, fuel and water deployed.”
He said he has been getting regular updates on the storm and its aftermath and has held several conference calls with governors and local officials to discuss preparations and needs after the storm, and has received briefings from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
FEMA had sent tonnes of supplies, including generators, tarps and other materials to the region before the storm, and federal response teams are working on search and rescue.
“The world is changing, right,” New Jersey’s mayor Phil Murphy told journalists during a news briefing on Thursday. “These storms are coming in more frequently, they’re coming in with more intensity,” he said. “And as it relates to our infrastructure, our resiliency our whole mindset, the playbook that we use – we have got to leap forward and get out ahead of this.”
Echoing a similar point, New York Senator Chuck Schumer said the US must do more to address climate change.
“When you get to record rainfalls in a week, it’s not just coincidence, when you get all the changes that we have seen in weather, that’s not a coincidence,” Schumer said during a news briefing.
“Global warming is upon us and it’s going to get worse and worse and worse unless we do something about it,” he said.