After Ida’s remnants kill dozens in the East, NYC mayor says cities need to prepare differently for increasingly intense storms

queens ny flooding bus
Queens NY floodwaters force bus riders to stand on their seats
00:51 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

After Ida’s remnants swept through the East Coast and left at least 50 people dead, New York City’s mayor said the extreme rainfall should get everyone “to act very differently” – including expanding expectations for evacuations.

“This is a new world,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN on Friday, arguing that the intensity and frequency of storms are rising through climate change and that the country is going to need “entirely different responses.”

With this storm causing so much flash flooding inland, de Blasio said he would consider being more aggressive in the future with pre-storm evacuations and orders to clear streets and subways – steps he said he’d normally reserve for hurricanes or massive blizzards.

Later Friday, he said a new city task force would determine protocols on when and how to clear the streets and evacuate ahead of storms.

“We’re going to have to be much more aggressive with these tools,” de Blasio told CNN.

The storm – by then remnants of a tropical depression – unleashed deadly flooding Wednesday from Virginia to New England, but especially from metro Philadelphia to New Jersey and southern New York. That came after Ida devastated parts of the Gulf Coast as a major hurricane Sunday.

Of the dozens killed in the East, many died in flooded homes – including many in flooded basements – or while overtaken by water in or outside their vehicles.

At least 25 people died in New Jersey and 18 died in New York state, according to officials. President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for those two states, the White House said late Thursday.

In New Jersey, four people died by drowning in an Elizabeth apartment complex when about 12 to 14 feet of water flooded their apartments, a city spokesperson told CNN Friday night.

Three of those people were members of the same family: Rosa Espinal, 72, her husband, Jose Torres, 71, and their son Jose Torres, 38, all died in the flood, the spokesperson said. Their neighbor, 33-year-old Shakia Garrett, also drowned.

All residents from the Oakwood Plaza apartment complex were evacuated, and as many as 600 have been displaced, the spokesperson said. They were taken to area hotels and an emergency shelter Thursday while the city prepared housing at a local sports center for those impacted, the spokesperson added.

Four deaths were attributed to the storm in Pennsylvania, and one each in Maryland, Connecticut and Virginia.

LIVE UPDATES: The latest on Ida’s aftermath

As for what to expect with any new policies, de Blasio said Friday these could include sending cellphone alerts to people living in basement apartments ahead of storms. He did not say how soon policies would be established.

“We have to start from scratch as we are mourning,” Amrita Bhagwandin of Queens, New York, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday. “We have to see how we can move on in the most graceful way here. Because this – if you see the situation here, it’s very unsafe, very unlivable. Death is upon us.”

Bhagwandin’s home sustained serious damage in the flood, but her biggest heartbreak was losing her neighbors, a mother and a son, she said.

Bhagwandin’s husband, Sahadeo, said that their neighborhood has had flooding issues before. And officials may come through during times of disaster, but the residents there need more action.

“We need a lot of help in this neighborhood and over the years we have been neglected. I came here in 2003, and since 2003 to 2021, we’re getting flooding and nothing has been done,” Sahadeo Bhagwandin said. “We have several projects that were completed in this block but it is not resolving the issue we have.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she wants answers.

“I want to know who knew what when and what could have been done differently – because New Yorkers deserve to know what we’re doing to learn from this event and make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Hochul told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

But part of making sure it doesn’t happen again is fighting back against climate change, Hochul said. She advocated for a continued transition in the state to carbon neutral energy.

“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.”

Officials have said the death toll could rise. Six people were missing in New Jersey on Friday morning in connection with the storm, the governor’s office told CNN.

25 homes destroyed or damaged by tornado in New Jersey

At least eight tornadoes were confirmed in the Northeast on Wednesday: four in Pennsylvania, three in New Jersey and one in southeast Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

In the southern New Jersey community of Mullica Hill, a tornado destroyed or severely damaged 25 homes, police Lt. David Marrow said. The weather service rated that tornado an EF-3 with 150 mph winds.

Hundreds of trees were downed, and power was knocked out for a third of the township, Marrow said.

“This is going to take some time to dig out of, there’s no question about it,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday, standing in front of one of the wrecked homes.

Residents sort through damaged and destroyed items in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.

As terrifying as the tornadoes were, none of the state’s storm deaths were related to them, Murphy said, adding that he believes residents took the flood warnings less seriously than the tornado warnings.

“The tornado warnings came out just as the flood warnings came out,” Murphy said. “Everybody, when they got the tornado warning, went into their basement and I think there were too many people who thought that they could deal with flooding and sadly, some of them either in their homes or in their cars, lost their lives.”

First responders pull local residents in a boat as they perform rescues in Mamaroneck, New York.

People standing to ensure they did not drown in the bus

The danger of floodwaters was readily apparent in New York City, where the police department made 69 water rescues and 166 non-water rescues, Police Chief Rodney Harrison said.

More than 800 subway riders were evacuated, Harrison said Thursday. And another 500 New Yorkers were rescued from flooded roadways, buildings and subway stations, the New York City Emergency Management Department said.

In the chaos, New York bus driver Rosa Amonte became an overnight viral sensation after she drove passengers to safety, even as 3 to 4 feet of water filled the bus.

“People literally standing on their seat to make sure they did not drown inside a bus,” Hochul said. “She stood there, she drove, through the night and did what it took to get people there safely.”

CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia, Laura Ly, Monica Garrett, Mirna Alsharif, Liam Reily, Rob Frehse and Raja Razek contributed to this report.

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