Toddler among at least 26 dead as New York smashed by unprecedented floods

·3-min read

A stunned US east coast faced a rising death toll, surging rivers, tornado damage and continuing calls for rescue Thursday after the remnants of Hurricane Ida walloped the region with record-breaking rain, drowning more than two dozen people in their homes and cars.

In a region that had been warned about potentially deadly flash flooding but hadn't braced for such a blow from the no-longer-hurricane, the storm killed at least 26 people from Maryland to New York on Wednesday night and Thursday morning (local time). 

Many residents were caught off guard by the devastation. The city had never previously even had an emergency flood warning.

A worker unblocks drains on a street affected by floodwater in Brooklyn, New York as flash flooding and record-breaking rainfall smashed the area. Source: Getty
A worker unblocks drains on a street affected by floodwater in Brooklyn, New York as flash flooding and record-breaking rainfall smashed the area. Source: Getty

At least 12 people died in New York City, police said, one of them in a car and 11 in flooded basement apartments that often serve as relatively affordable homes.

Reportedly among the dead was a 2-year-old boy.

Officials said at least eight died in New Jersey and three in Pennsylvania's suburban Montgomery County; one was killed by a falling tree, one drowned in a car and another in a home.

'How can something like this happen?'

In New York City, Sophy Liu roused her son from bed, put on a life jacket on him and squeezed him into an inflatable swimming ring as their first-floor apartment flooded in Queens.

Unable to open the door against the force of the water, she called friends for help. The water was nearly 1.5 metres high when they came to her rescue, she said.

“I was obviously scared, but I had to be strong for my son. I had to calm him down,” she recalled Thursday as medical examiners removed three bodies from a home down the street.

In another part of Queens, water rapidly filled Deborah Torres' first-floor apartment to her knees as her landlord frantically urged her neighbours below — who included a baby — to get out, she said. But the water rushed in so strongly that she surmised they weren't able to open the door. The three residents died.

“I have no words," she said. “How can something like this happen?”

At one Queens development, water filled the sunken patio of a basement apartment, then broke through a glass door and rushed in, trapping a 48-year-old woman in 2 metres of water. Neighbours unsuccessfully tried for an hour to save her.

“She was screaming, ‘Help me, help me, help me!’ We all came to her aid, trying to get her out. But it was so strong – the thrust of the water was so strong," said the building’s assistant superintendent, Jayson Jordan.

Severe storm linked to climate change

Ida's remnants maintained a soggy core, then merged with a more traditional storm front and dropped an onslaught of rain, meteorologists said.

Similar weather has followed hurricanes before, but experts said it was slightly exacerbated by climate change — warmer air holds more rain — and urban settings, where expansive pavement prevents water from seeping into the ground.

Key facts about extreme weather you need to know

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