New York City to start alerting basement dwellers after deaths in flooding

Police tape blocks off the area around a basement in which multiple people died after it flooded, in the Queens area of New York.
Police tape blocks off the area around a basement in which multiple people died after it flooded, in the Queens area of New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will draft new policies to warn New Yorkers who live in basement apartments of impending rain storms after the deaths this week when floods ravaged the region.

At least 40 people died in New York and New Jersey in the heavy flash flooding that came in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

Many of those who died in the city were trapped in basement apartments that were rapidly deluged.

De Blasio said the task force will report its recommendations during the week Sept 26.

The city is facing "a new reality" due to climate change in which it must adjust to the impact of torrential rains, he said. While the city can't make infrastructure changes in the short term, it can change its evacuation plans to include basement dwellers in addition to alerting coastal residents. At least 50,000 basement apartments house some 100,000 people, de Blasio said during a Friday news briefing (Sept 3).

The city will use cellphone alerts, send first responders door to door and work with community organisations to reach them, De Blasio said. He said it is unrealistic to make such apartments illegal because housing is already in short supply.

"Some apartments can be made safe but it's a challenge legally, financially," he said. "It's a really tough problem that will take some time to sort out."

Outside the City, New Jersey's death toll climbed to 25 with six still missing, Governor Phil Murphy said on Friday as he surveyed the storm damage in Millburn, 40km west of Manhattan.

He urged residents to remain off the roads while the state continues cleanup efforts. Around 18,000 people are still without power in New York and New Jersey.

"Please stay off the roads," Murphy said. "You could easily be swept away or trapped and sadly we have many examples of that."

The storm, which dropped more than 23cm of rain on parts of the state on Wednesday and Thursday, spawned multiple reported tornadoes and left downtowns, highways and residential neighbourhoods underwater.

Murphy also said damaged New Jersey small businesses can apply for grants from a US$10 million pot of aid. The state also is seeking federal emergency funding for repairs and to aid individuals and businesses.

"The downtown small business community was crushed," Murphy said. "Recovering and rebuilding will require economic support, and we will be there."

President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for New Jersey on Friday morning that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide funding.

Storm hearings

In New York, the death toll rose to 15 from 13, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Friday. She said Biden has approved federal assistance for evacuation and shelter support. Hochul said she has requested an "after-action report" to identify shortcomings in the storm response and plans to build more resiliency into New York City's subways.

She said most train service have been restored but some commuter lines are still not up, including on the Metro-North Railroad, which is "not in good shape right now."

The New York City Council has called a Sept 14 hearing "to get answers on the MTA and the City's preparation and response to the catastrophic flooding, according to a statement from the council.

"What happened on Wednesday raises several urgent questions, including why we weren't better prepared for an anticipated storm," council members said in the statement.

"We know climate change is an unavoidable factor at this point, so at the very least, we need an infallible plan to warn and protect New Yorkers for the storms to come."