CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — A stunned U.S. 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.
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 46 people from Maryland to Connecticut on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
Thursday evening, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his state’s death toll from the remnants of Hurricane Ida had risen to at least 23.
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 in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.
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 five feet 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.
Officials said at least five people died in Pennsylvania, including one killed by a falling tree and another who drowned in his car after helping his wife to escape, according to authorities. A Connecticut state police sergeant perished after his cruiser was swept away.
New York’s FDR Drive, a major artery on the east side of Manhattan, and the Bronx River Parkway were under water by late Wednesday evening. Subway stations and tracks became so flooded that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended all service. Videos posted online showed subway riders standing on seats in cars filled with water.
Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency for the city, and Gov. Kathy Hochul followed suit at the state level.
New York’s Central Park recorded 3.15 inches of rain in an hour, shattering a record set by Tropical Storm Henri on Aug. 21 of this year. The National Weather Service office in New York declared its first-ever set of flash flood emergencies in the region Wednesday night, an alert level that is reserved for “exceedingly rare situations when a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage from a flash flood is happening or will happen soon.”
Times Square looked like a ghost town Wednesday night, with the usual crowds of tourists gone and very few vehicles in sight.
Amtrak service was canceled between Philadelphia and Boston.
At least 220,000 customers were without power in the region at one point, with most of the outages in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In the New York City borough of Queens, police said officers responded around 10 p.m. to a 911 call for flooding in the basement apartment. They found three family members unconscious, including a 50-year-old man, a 48-year-old woman and a 2-year-old boy, officials said. They were all pronounced dead at the scene.
In New Jersey, a 70-year-old man died when the car he was in was swept away by floodwaters. Two other people in the car with him were rescued. Passaic Mayor Hector C. Lora said the car was driven beyond barricades set up to protect drivers and was swept away. Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency in all 21 counties in the state, with meteorologists warning that it could be several days before rivers there reach their crests.
Tornadoes, a seldom-seen weather phenomenon in the Northeast, were reported along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and in a New Jersey county just south of Philadelphia, where homes were reduced to rubble.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, nicknamed Flood City for an infamous natural disaster there, was briefly under an evacuation order when accumulating rainwater threatened to compromise a dam near the city. Thousands of people left their homes, but the water is now receding.
In Rhode Island, heavy rain caused a massive street collapse around 6 a.m. Thursday. No injuries were reported.
All this comes just over a week after Tropical Storm Henri hit the area, and there may be more trouble on the horizon. Tropical Storm Larry is off the west coast of Africa, heading west and strengthening rapidly. It’s forecast to be a major hurricane with winds of at least 120 mph by Saturday.
NewsNation affiliates WPIX and the Associated Press contributed to this report.