New York Gov. Kathy Hochul faced the first test of her ability to manage a disaster Thursday amid the deadly and paralyzing flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, as Hochul toured the damage with local officials and pledged to make addressing the growing threat of extreme weather a priority.
The new governor, who stepped into her role less than two weeks ago after Andrew Cuomo resigned, declared a state of emergency early Thursday morning, and New York City issued a flash flood emergency for the first time in its history. Several inches of rain fell per hour, causing heavy flooding that brought railways and the New York City subway service to a standstill and left many unable to reach their destinations.
Hochul called the massive flooding overnight in the state and New York City, caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, “one for the record books” and “absolutely stunning on a scale.”
“Unprecedented is almost an understatement,” she said on CNN.
At the same time, Hochul and other Democrats offered dire warnings that the rainfall that has battered the city in recent days is a sign of the growing threat that climate change poses – identifying the need to address infrastructure challenges as a priority for the state.
To underscore the accelerating threat of extreme weather, Hochul told reporters Thursday morning that the storm broke a record for rainfall in New York City that had been set just one week earlier.
“That says to me that there are no more cataclysmic, unforeseeable events. We need to foresee these in advance, and be prepared,” Hochul said.
“We have no choice, my friends. The future we spoke about in dire terms – that future is now, it’s happening. We’re losing life, lives; we’re losing property and we cannot continue on this path,” she said.
The hurricanes, tornados, floods and wildfires that have battered the nation in recent days led Democrats to issue new calls for drastic action to address the increasing frequency of extreme weather caused by global warming.
“Global warming is upon us,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said at a Thursday press conference. “When you get two record rainfalls in a week it’s not just coincidence. When you get all the changes we’ve seen in weather, that’s not a coincidence. Global warming is upon us and it’s going to get worse, and worse, and worse, unless we do something about it.”
Schumer’s comments were echoed by Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who chairs the House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment.
“I had cousins of mine who are not that political text me saying, ‘What are we doing about the climate crisis?’” Khanna told CNN. “Ida brought home for many Americans that we must act now and boldly to end fossil fuel subsidies and have a clean energy standard for the safety of our communities and nation.”
Local officials in New York similarly called on the nation’s leaders in Washington to act.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said that “we need Washington, DC, to move with a level or urgency” and that “these lives could have been saved.”
“We are in a new world now, let’s be blunt,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
He added: “This is the biggest wakeup call we could possibly get.”
For Hochul, meanwhile, the crisis in New York offered a window into her approach to management at a time of crisis – and how it differs from the top-down style of Cuomo, her predecessor, who often strong-armed local officials and kept de Blasio, his long-time rival, from appearing with him at news conferences. Hochul appeared with de Blasio and Richards on Thursday.
“A new administration – my administration – we don’t govern by press conference,” Hochul told reporters at a press conference, in a clear shot at Cuomo. “Yes, we are here today to answer questions, but I want to assure them, it’s not just about today, it’s about what we do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.”
“You will see a different tone – a different era of collaboration,” she said. “And I served as a council member for 14 years. I know what it takes to get the job done. You don’t just show up one day, you show up until the job is done.”
Hochul told reporters she talked with President Joe Biden, and that Biden told her to “tell me what you need.”
Hochul urged commuters to remain at home and to “give us some time to have complete restoration of the trains.” She warned New Yorkers not to venture out into the streets, saying it’s “dangerous” due to fallen power lines and debris.
“There’s going to be a massive cleanup. I would continue to urge people to stay home. Check on your neighbors, give everybody a call, make sure they’re OK, because people are just stunned by what happened last night,” Hochul told CNN.
She added that New York state is “prepared” and “used to disasters, but you just cannot anticipate how much rain fell out of the heavens last night.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia, Madeline Holcombe and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.