It’s a nightmare scenario: a massive storm that wipes towns off the map, floods cities, knocks power out to millions, spawns deadly tornados, and cuts a swath right through the heart of the country. Except that this nightmare is real. Hurricane Ida made landfall on Sunday, August 29th, 2021, and slammed into Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Just after landfall is usually the worst, but for many, the worst was yet to come.
Death Toll Even Higher As People Survey Losses
In the Northeast the death toll from the remnants of Hurricane Ida has now risen to 48. In total, 61 deaths have been attributed to Ida across 8 states as of the publishing of this article. There have now been 9 confirmed tornados in New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
President Biden spoke this week about the state of the country in Ida’s wake. The unimaginable destruction and loss is hard to grasp for many, and will be even harder to recover from. ABC reports, “President Joe Biden approved New York and New Jersey emergency declarations due to the storms and spoke on Ida’s damage in the Northeast Thursday afternoon, citing that New York recorded more rain Wednesday ‘than it usually sees the entire month of September.’
‘People were trapped in the subways. But the heroic men and women of the New York Fire Department rescued all of them. They were trapped,’ Biden said.
He said he’s made it clear to East Coast governors that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ‘on the ground’ and ready to provide assistance.”
It will be a long road to recovery for many. Horror stories have come out of NYC of people drowning as their basement apartments filled too rapidly to evacuate, many bodies only found after the waters receded. Across New Jersey and Maryland, tornado damage has left dozens of homes destroyed. Weather of this magnitude simply doesn’t hit the Northeast that often; but it may become a regular thing as the planet warms rapidly.
Ida Slams into Louisana
They weren’t given much warning. What would become Ida started to form late last week, and by Thursday August 26th, forecasters were starting to worry. By Friday, August 27th, all signs pointed to a Category 2 or 3 hitting the Northern Gulf Coast just two days later. Low-lying cities like New Orleans scrambled to issue evacuations for areas that are prone to flooding or under the protection of levees, which failed catastrophically and historically 16 years prior during Hurricane Katrina.
But with just two days left until landfall, they worried about people being stuck in their cars while trying to evacuate, so the people who weren’t in the most dire danger were asked to stay put, a daunting task as through Friday and Saturday, Ida underwent rapid intensification and the forecasts began eyeing a catastrophic Category 4 or 5 at landfall. Ultimately, Hurricane Ida made landfall at Port Fourchon, Louisiana as a devastating category 4 hurricane, with sustained windspeeds of up to 150MPH, just 7mph short of the determination for a category 5. Wind gusts for such a storm are much higher, some exceeding 200mph.
To the toe of Louisana’s boot, Ida brought unimaginable destruction, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped New Orleans from the map. Areas of Louisiana like Grand Isle, one of the first impacted at landfall, were nearly flattened by a combination of wind and storm surge. In New Orleans, catastrophic damage to the power system left the entire city without power – and it may take a month or more for some areas of the city to be restored. Food, fuel, and water shortages now plague the survivors of the storm who did as they were told and stayed put, and desperation is in the air as people recall the horrifying days following Hurricane Katrina and the hunger and disease that followed in its wake.
The Slow, Grueling Northeastward Trek Floods Entire Cities
But even as the Gulf Coast began picking up the pieces and turning thoughts to survival and rebuilding, the storm wasn’t done with the United States yet. Due to an abundant supply of warm groundwater, Ida didn’t hit land and immediately weaken as most storms do. Instead, it pulled water from the marshy areas in southern Louisana and remained strong even as it churned slowly North, at one point almost stationary near New Orleans. By the time it moved out of Louisiana, it was diminished, but not enough to spare the people in its path.
As Ida moved north and east, it brought devastating flooding to places like Tennessee, already nearly underwater from two weeks of historic rainfall. The storm expended its fury in the form of tornados, flash floods, and gusty winds that hit areas quite unused to such strong tropical weather. In Tennessee, the Bonnaroo Music Festival canceled for the second year in a row, but this time because the farm where they planned to hold it was either flooded or a dangerous mud bog.
US Open Forced to Delay
And still the storm churned. In New York, another seemingly normal event was hit by the effects of the storm. The US Open, taking place at Flushing Meadows in Louis Armstrong Stadium, and Arthur Ashe Stadium in NYC, was hit by several rain delays as spectators were drenched by rain coming through the roof. At one point, spectators in Louis Armstrong Stadium were just sitting in the stadium waiting as it was too flooded to leave. Tournaments resumed around 1 A.M. in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Diego Schwartzman won that game against Kevin Anderson in the wee hours of the morning. A ray of hope of normalcy even as everything else seemed to be falling apart. Per CNN via MSN, “‘Thank you everyone for staying tonight,’ Schwartzman said in his on-court interview.
‘Crazy weather. (It) was very difficult before the match. We were talking not just because we want to play, (but) also because the security and the government, police, everyone (that) was involved in the decision to come to this court.'”
But those at the US Open were lucky. Because in NYC, flood waters were rising. For the first time ever, NYC was issued a flood emergency warning, telling people to immediately get to higher ground or stay put if they were in a safe location. The Big Apple, home to nearly 9 million people, came to a total standstill as waters rose. So far, the death toll in NYC is 8, including a toddler who succumbed to the unprecedented flooding. It’s an unimaginable horror for a city at sea level unused to these storms. Residents received tornado warnings yesterday, another awful first in nearly 24 hours of horror that the city has endured. New York City recorded its highest rainfall ever in history.
New Jersey and Maryland See Unprecedented Tornadic Activity
Unfortunately, elsewhere in the Northeast, the death toll was even higher. Across New Jersey and Maryland, tornadoes took their toll. 14 people so far have died in the storms in New Jersey, bringing the deaths in the Northeast to 22 in the wake of Ida.
Trenton, NJ, was issued its first ever “tornado emergency,” the highest level of warning the National Weather Service can issue. Between four and six tornados touched down across the region, and they weren’t the typical half-hearted funnel clouds that the East is used to. These were massive, wedge-style tornados, including one that devastated Burlington County, NJ. Per The Washington Post via MSN, “That tornado, which the National Weather Service described as ‘large and extremely dangerous,’ struck Burlington County, N.J., just after 7 p.m.; video emerging on social media depicted a Great Plains-style monstrous tornado, a furious whirlwind adorned with armlike vortices protruding horizontally outward. Those tentacle-like tendrils accompany only the strongest tornadoes; debris was lifted to roughly 20,000 feet, ordinarily an indicator of winds 150 mph or greater.”
Maryland was struck by at least four tornados as well, leveling dozens of structures. Manhattan and The Bronx as well as Cape Cod all received tornado warnings too, something residents are entirely unused to. And in Pennsylvania, tens of thousands were evacuated in a rush as fears of a dam break due to Ida’s flooding prompted officials to act.
The damage was nearly unprecedented in the Northeast, an area far more used to winter storms than hurricanes. A lot of what was left behind recalls the images of Superstorm Sandy. It’s a horrifying and heartbreaking day for many across the Eastern half of the US, but it’s not likely to be the last. As the climate heats up and oceans get warmer, these mega storms will continue to spawn. Areas more vulnerable to storm surge flooding due to rising ocean levels will face this devastation again and again. It’s a sobering wakeup call to government officials to act, especially on the heels of a UN report that raised all the red flags about the potential for climate change to do exactly what happened here with Hurricane Ida.
But for those mourning in the Northeast, picking up the pieces and grieving lives lost, some still waiting for rescue among churning floodwaters, their current cares are simple: survive. Get through the next day. And hope that tomorrow brings sun, and healing.