Despite being downgraded to a storm, Ida pummeled East Coast states

The U.S. East Coast is grappling with historic flooding and tornadoes. At least 40 more deaths have been linked to storm Ida since it struck with new fury Wednesday. Other than Louisiana, flooding is also bad in parts of the northeast and the mid-Atlantic, including Philadelphia. Community reporter Roby Chavez begins our report, and Philadelphia fire commissioner Adam Thiel joins us to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Cities on the East Coast are grappling with the devastating impact of Ida tonight. The storm system inundated communities with historic flooding, tornadoes and shut down transportation.

    At least 40 more deaths have been linked to the storm system since it struck with new fury yesterday, a dozen of them in New York City. In Louisiana, state officials say there were four more deaths of nursing home residents who were evacuated before Hurricane Ida first hit.

    State officials were turned away from inspecting the facility where they were relocated. Hundreds of thousands of people remain without power four days after Ida first landed as a hurricane.

    Roby Chavez, who is the "NewsHour"'s communities correspondent in New Orleans, has our report.

  • Man:

    Oh my God, this is terrible.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Remnants from Hurricane Ida brought historic and catastrophic flooding across the Northeast.

    The National Weather Service office in New York issued its first ever set of flash flood emergencies in the region late yesterday. Inundated buses in New York City had passengers standing on their seats. Rainfall poured into apartment complexes. Others had floodwaters waiting to burst through their doors.

    People in Brooklyn waded through knee-deep waters. And some were trapped by bursting floodwaters in the city's subway stations. All services were suspended due to flooding in the stations and tracks.

    The destruction became more apparent as daylight broke. Cars were left stranded in streets now transformed into swollen rivers.

  • Patty Bogner, Yonkers Resident:

    You interfere with the rivers, this is what happens all the time. And they have spent millions to fix them. And you can't. Mother Nature has its own way of handling it.

  • Roby Chavez:

    New York Governor Kathy Hochul spoke about the devastating rainfall, which surpassed records set during Tropical Storm Henri just 11 days ago.

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY):

    Because of climate change, unfortunately, this is something we are going to have to deal with, with great regularity.

  • Roby Chavez:

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio described it as a wake-up call.

  • Bill de Blasio (D), Mayor of New York:

    From now on, what I think we do is tell New Yorkers to expect the very, very worst. It may sound alarmist at times, but, unfortunately, it is being proven by nature.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Harsh winds and flash floods also pummeled New Jersey late yesterday. Newark Airport was evacuated and all flights were canceled.

    The storm also triggered tornadoes in the Mid-Atlantic, destroying multiple homes. Earlier today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy toured a neighborhood in Mullica Hill. It was badly damaged.

  • Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ):

    An extraordinary, sadly tragic, historic 24 hours in New Jersey. There's not other way to put it.

  • Roby Chavez:

    The record-breaking rainfall also severely hit Pennsylvania, including significant flooding in Philly proper, Wilmington, Delaware, and areas across Maryland.

    In Louisiana, some positive news: Power was restored in the French Quarter today, as well as for some neighborhoods in Eastern New Orleans.

  • Ashan Thibodeaux, Eastern New Orleans Resident:

    When the power went back on, it felt so good. The A.C. — you know, because we were suffering without no A.C. And we just enjoyed it.

  • Roby Chavez:

    But more than 800,000 people in Louisiana are still without power, making fuel a necessity for survival.

  • New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell:

    LaToya Cantrell, Mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana: We just have not received adequate fueling services to the general public. But we are continuing to push out that need. And when we get more, we will share more.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Long lines formed at gas stations. Some waited over seven hours in their cars to get to the pump.

  • Ronnie, New Orleans Resident:

    Every storm is going always be tough, you know? But we're strong Black people. And this is what we survive. We survive stuff like this. Katrina, it ain't stop us. This one ain't going to stop us.

  • Roby Chavez:

    At the White House, President Biden said the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will be used in order to reduce gas shortages.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: The region hit by Ida is a key center of our nation's oil production and refining infrastructure. We are moving already quickly to increase the availability of gas and easing the pressure on gas prices around the country.

  • Roby Chavez:

    The president will travel to Louisiana tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, high temperatures in the region are adding to an already tumultuous situation.

  • Helen Southard, Eastern New Orleans Resident:

    It's just miserable. And the older you get, the harder it gets to deal with the heat.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Buses are used as cooling centers. The food is passed out to those who've had to throw out food from their fridge.

    For hard-hit communities in Louisiana and Mississippi, more work lies ahead.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Roby Chavez.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we just saw, flooding remains particularly bad in parts of the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic tonight, including in the Philadelphia area.

    Let's turn to the city's fire commissioner, Adam Thiel.

    Commissioner Thiel, thank you so much for talking with us. It sounds like you were not expecting anything like this that happened yesterday, last night.

  • Adam Thiel, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner:

    Well, we had an inkling.

    We talked with the Weather Service yesterday. And, certainly, they talked about the forecast and the potential for major flooding. We didn't think we would become close to breaking a record that was set in 1869. And that's what happened.

    We almost hit that 17-foot record. The normal stage for Schuylkill River was around 5.7 feet, so pretty significant flooding.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what exactly are you coping with? What have you had to deal with?

  • Adam Thiel:

    Well, we made a lot of water rescues overnight, our very dedicated firefighters, medics, assisted by police officers, a lot of organizations pitching in.

    I think, all told, we have rescued more than 100 people. We had National Guard soldiers here today with high-water vehicles, people, pets. That was really the overnight, a lot of folks who drove their vehicles into flooded roads, certainly something we don't recommend.

    We had some buildings we had to evacuate last night from the rising waters. And then, today, we're actually still doing water rescues out there, despite the fact that it is sunny. But we're also evacuating buildings that have their infrastructure somewhat compromised by the floodwaters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you mean by that, comprised?

  • Adam Thiel:

    Well, we have buildings that are losing power. A lot of high-rise buildings have their generators and other things in the basement, all of their electrical switching gear.

    And when the water gets in there, it tends to short those things out. So, we're starting to have to evacuate some pretty large buildings. We still have two reception centers open across the city, and we are probably going to be turning one of those into an overnight shelter for folks who don't have anywhere else to go tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there more that you think, in retrospect, that could have been done to get Philadelphia ready for this?

  • Adam Thiel:

    I'm really thankful that we — we did lean forward. We put extra water rescue teams on standby.

    Our urban search-and-rescue task force got back just in time from a federal deployment in Alabama for Ida to be able to help us here and one of our neighboring counties. Thankfully, we never ran out of resources, even during the peak last night, when we had rescues going on all around the city.

    Had we not leaned forward in that way, however, we would have run out of resources. That said, we're seeing, really seeing this historic flooding. We have seen tornadoes in the city already this year.

    So, it seems apparent to us that the weather is changing. We're having more and more severe weather events. And that's something I think we all need to be thinking about as we resource going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question about it.

    And what about in terms of infrastructure? I was reading about aging sewer systems in Philadelphia. We know that's the case in many cities around the country. What is that saying to you?

  • Adam Thiel:

    If you put the 17 feet of water into a system that's designed for five, you're always going to have problems.

    Really, seeing this amount of water in the Schuylkill River, a lot of other places around the city flooded as well, it's just not something that is supposed to happen. Seeing tornadoes in Pennsylvania is not something that's supposed to happen.

    So I really do think we need to be considering our infrastructure, considering our resources, because the weather patterns, whether it's wildfires in California, we see our colleagues out there doing that, we're here doing floods, it's affecting all of us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And are there steps, finally, that you think you should be taking now just to be prepared in case there's another storm like this in coming weeks, months?

  • Adam Thiel:

    Well, again, we're very fortunate that we are well-resourced. We're a large fire department, more than 3,000 very dedicated women and men.

    So we didn't run out of resources. We had more people to call. We had folks here at work. We had all the tools and equipment that we needed. That's not true for every fire department around the country. I do think we need to be considering our response until the time that we can get all of our infrastructure where it needs to be and we're really more prepared as a society for these severe weather events.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Adam Thiel, who is the commissioner for the Fire Department for the city of Philadelphia, thank you very much.

  • Adam Thiel:

    Thank you so much, Judy. Stay safe.

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