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Remnants of Hurricane Ida inundate New York with floods

Natural disasters updates

At least 14 people died in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania after the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped record-breaking rainfall that caused flash floods across the region late on Wednesday.

The floods forced the New York City subway system to halt, stranding travellers on their evening commutes. Service on a majority of lines was still at least partly suspended as of Thursday morning, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority urging riders to avoid unnecessary travel.

Newark Liberty International Airport said it had experienced “severe flooding,” cancelled more than 300 flights, and briefly evacuated an air traffic control tower due to strong winds.

Tennis matches at the US Open tournament in New York were also interrupted, as heavy rain breached Louis Armstrong Stadium’s retractable roof. 

Close to 200,000 utility customers lost power due to the storm, while homes were levelled by a tornado that touched down in Mullica Hill, New Jersey.

Nine people died in New York City, eight of them in flooded basements in Queens borough, the police said. Another four were found dead at an apartment complex in the port city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, the AP said, and more fatalities were reported outside Philadelphia.

Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on Sunday, the strongest storm to strike the area since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Entergy, Louisiana’s largest electric utility, has restored some service but hundreds of thousands of customers remained in the dark and those in the worst-hit areas face weeks without power.

The storm’s ability to cripple the nation’s most densely populated area in a matter of hours showed how New York’s infrastructure remains ill-prepared for the stronger, wetter storms associated with climate change.

“What we have to recognise is the suddenness, the brutality of storms now,” Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, said. “It is different . . . This is the biggest wake-up call we could ever get. We’re going to do a lot of things differently and quickly.”

Images of water rising to the windows of parked cars, gushing down the stairwells of subway stations and spilling into the basements of homes were widely shared on social media.

The National Weather Service issued its first-ever flash flood emergency for New York City shortly after 9pm, saying that water rescues were already taking place. The storm also broke the record for the most rainfall observed in Central Park in a single hour, with 3.15 inches falling. The previous record was set less than two weeks ago by Tropical Storm Henri.

A travel advisory asking non-emergency vehicles to stay off the roads remained in effect on Thursday.

The insurance hit from Ida is expected to be substantial. Fitch Ratings predicted earlier this week that the overall cost to insurers and reinsurers could be between $15bn and $25bn, likely exceeding the impact of this year’s winter storm Uri, which had knocked out Texas’s electric grid, but still well below the $65bn hit from Katrina.

Boston-based catastrophe modelling firm Karen Clark & Company published a “flash estimate” of $18bn of claims from Ida, including $40m in the Caribbean and the rest in wind and storm-related losses in the US.

“It will take many months or longer for the financial view of this event to fully develop,” insurance broker Aon said on Monday. The uninsured costs will also be significant, it added, including damage to infrastructure as well as properties without flood cover.

The insurance industry is already reeling after the worst start to the year for natural catastrophes in a decade, as urban development and climate change effects combined to deal a $40bn first-half blow from events such as wildfires and winter storms. That was followed by more extreme weather in July, including floods in Europe that were estimated to be the region’s costliest weather event in decades. 

Additional reporting by Justin Jacobs in Houston


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