Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (2024)

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Michael Wilson and Hurubie Meko

Friday’s rainfall in New York broke records. Here is the latest.

Heavy rainfall pounded New York City and the surrounding region on Friday, bringing flash floods, shutting down entire subway lines, turning major roadways into lakes and sending children to the upper floors of flooding schoolhouses. Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency, urging New Yorkers to stay home and singling out those who live in basem*nts to brace for the worst.

State and city leaders implored residents not to underestimate a storm that flipped from falling rain to fire-hose torrents in minutes. Ms. Hochul called it a “life-threatening rainfall event,” and Mayor Eric Adams called the storm “something that we cannot take lightly and we are not taking lightly.” The city’s residents, while largely caught by surprise, took heed and many stayed home and off the roads.

Citywide cellphone pings pushed alerts from the National Weather Service throughout the day, repeatedly extending a “considerable” flash-flood warning, a level reserved for extreme and rare rainfall events.

The warning remained in effect through the evening, and the governor cautioned at a news conference against driving despite a lull in the storm. The rain was unpredictable, she said, and it wasn’t entirely clear what areas would be hardest hit overnight.

Throughout the day, cascading waterfalls shut down subway lines across much of the city, with service being halted even at major hubs like Barclays Center. Trains were rerouted with little warning.

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“I have no idea what’s happening,” one subway conductor said as her Q train moved onto the E line. “I don’t know where we’re going.”

Commuters turned and ventured back home on foot through scenes of chaos and upheaval.

Water gushed into brownstone basem*nts in Park Slope. In Prospect Park, the landscape was altered by new creeks. In Queens, the storm was generational, making Friday the wettest day at Kennedy International Airport since modern record-keeping began.

The streets in Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, a neighborhood built on the slant of a hill, were engulfed in minutes in currents dotted with whitecaps, just as schools were opening their doors. Boys and girls slogged through deep water on 11th Avenue to reach their elementary school classes while neighbors with rakes tried to clear storm drains of dense fallen leaves.

“No children are in danger as far as we know,” the governor said. But some schools asked parents to return during the storm to pick up their children, which school officials later said was “precisely the wrong thing to do.”

“Truthfully, holding school today knowing this was coming feels irresponsible,” said Jessamyn Lee, a Brooklyn parent of two.

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By the end of the day, the overall attendance rate at public schools fell to roughly 77 percent, after hovering around 90 percent earlier this week. Several dozen schools across Brooklyn in particular saw more than 4 in 10 students absent.

The sense that city leaders were largely caught off guard promised to linger after the rain had stopped falling. Mayor Adams was swiftly criticized for not warning residents about the storm soon enough, and for waiting to address New Yorkers until noontime Friday.

Scenes both placid and fraught played out in the city, depending on how hard the rain was falling. Waist-high rivers appeared beneath arched bridges in Central Park. A man in a drenched business suit leaned on a fence by the Great Lawn, and removed his boots one at a time to empty them of water.

In Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a large tree fell, pulling its roots up through a sidewalk and cleaving a parked Nissan. In Windsor Terrace, Bryn Knowles, a former city parks employee in Lake Oswego, Ore., felt her instincts from that rain-soaked region kick in. She picked up a rake and went out to a blocked drain on the corner.

“Every major rain event, all the city workers would drop all their tasks, grab their rakes and go and clear storm drains,” she said. “It’s fun — it’s instant gratification, it helps people.”

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Attention immediately turned to residents who live in flood zones, two years after the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused basem*nt floods that killed 11 people in Queens. Many of those apartments, which are often rented to immigrants or others desperate for an affordable place to live, are not allowed to be rented legally and do not have adequate means of escape in a flood.

“Plan your escape route,” Ms. Hochul said. “Don’t wait until water is over your knees before you leave. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

The rain on Friday made this the second-wettest September in New York City history, according to National Weather Service statistics: More than a foot of rain — over 14 inches — has fallen this month, the most in more than 140 years, when the city logged 16.85 inches in September 1882.

The storm created havoc for the busiest streets and highways, flooding parts of the F.D.R. Drive and closing down the Belt Parkway. Many flights were canceled or delayed at Kennedy and La Guardia.

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Over the next few hours, the storm will gradually head east, said Dominic Ramunni, a Weather Service meteorologist. “We’ve got Manhattan on the western edge of it now, with the heaviest rain over Queens and western Nassau County,” he said. But he added, “We’re still dealing with it: We still have that fire hose of moisture coming on shore.”

In the Central Park Zoo, the storm brought about an escape: The water rose so high that a female sea lion, named Sally, was able to breach her pool and venture out. She did not get far, with the zoo locked down and employees watching her carefully.

Like many New Yorkers on Friday, Sally decided she was better off at home.

“She explored the area before returning to the familiar surroundings of the pool,” said Jim Breheny, an executive with the Wildlife Conservation Society, “and the company of the other two sea lions.”

Mihir Zaveri, Emma Fitzsimmons, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Andy Newman , Christopher Maag and Troy Closson contributed reporting.

Sept. 29, 2023, 7:08 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 7:08 p.m. ET

Amelia Nierenberg

The storm scrambles Sukkot plans, but Jews make room indoors.

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Sukkot, a Jewish harvest festival that was to begin Friday night, is traditionally celebrated outside. As night falls, Jews gather in a sukkah, a temporary structure with a roof made of branches and leaves, to eat and celebrate under the sky.

Rabbi Jonathan Leener of the Prospect Heights Shul in Brooklyn said that tradition allows for improvisation if necessary. The torrential rain that inundated New York City on Friday made for just such an occasion.

“According to Jewish law, there is no requirement to eat in the sukkah if the rain would be too uncomfortable,” he said. “Today’s weather certainly qualifies for that exemption.”

As deep waters stalled buses and trains, and rain pounded the city, congregations adapted. Some brought sukkahs indoors. Others prepared for more guests than planned, taking in people whose sukkahs had flooded.

“The weather we’re experiencing is a reminder of precisely what Sukkot comes to teach — that life is precarious and unpredictable,” said Rabbi Michelle Dardashti of Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood.

The synagogue postponed plans to decorate and celebrate in a sukkah and canceled Friday evening services. “We don’t want anyone risking harm in traveling to the synagogue for these events,” Rabbi Dardashti said.

The Manhattan branch of the Romemu congregation, on the Upper West Side, moved its dinner inside. Sukkot lasts a week, and every day from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., anyone can attend, including if their own sukkah has been damaged, Debra Passner, a spokeswoman, said.

“It’s joy amidst vulnerability,” Rabbi David Ingber, Romemu’s founding rabbi and the senior director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92nd Street Y, New York, said of the holiday. “It’s a recognition of blessing amidst contingency and fragility. Those are all interwoven in Sukkot.”

On Friday morning, Sarah Schecker, 26, raced to the Greenpoint Shul, in Brooklyn.

The congregation had canceled outdoor programming for Friday night. When Ms. Schecker opened the door, she saw three inches of standing water. There went Plan B.

She hustled to move sacred texts and old pictures to higher ground, and then went outside to clear the debris from an exterior drain.

Then, she started to cook: “I guess that means dinner at my house,” she said.

Surrounded by puddles of water, she cooked a meal for 40 people in the synagogue’s kitchen. Green beans sizzled. Chicken roasted. The smell of garlic and onion filled the air, masking the musty odor of the seeping water as she prepared her mother’s rosemary mushroom potato recipe.

But by Friday afternoon, the elevators at her apartment building had stopped working. She lives on the 14th floor. So she and others in the congregation went to Plan D: dinner at another member’s apartment in a brownstone building that the group jokingly calls the “Greenpoint Shtetl,” because Greenpoint Shul members live in all three of the building’s apartments.

Except the last-minute host, Dr. Judah Fierstein, had just landed in Chicago on one of the few flights to leave New York on time Friday.

“Sarah promised that she’s going to leave it in better shape than she found it, and I didn’t leave it in great shape to begin with,” Dr. Fierstein, 48, said, speaking over the phone while waiting for a cab in Chicago. “I wasn’t expecting 40 people to come over. But what are you going to do? It’s just a crazy day. I can’t really say no.”

Larry Drucker, a member of the Greenpoint Shul’s board of trustees, noted that precipitation is part of the daily prayers: From Passover through most of Sukkot, observant Jews pray for dew, he said. At the end of the holiday, the prayers change, and Jews start praying for rain.

“So we really can’t complain,” Mr. Drucker said, laughing. He added: “It’s something we ask for.”

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Sept. 29, 2023, 6:56 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 6:56 p.m. ET

Claire Fahy

What to expect in New York City tonight: unpredictable rain and possibly more flooding.

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By Friday afternoon, the sky over Manhattan had calmed and the rain had slowed to a small drizzle. But Gov. Kathy Hochul urged New Yorkers not to be fooled by the reprieve, and to continue exercising caution.

“We’re still in the throes of it,” she said in an interview on CNN. “My biggest concern right now is that people will see a lull in the rain and people will go out in their vehicles.”

Later at a news conference, the governor cautioned against driving in any part of the city. The rain was unpredictable, she said, and it wasn’t entirely clear what areas would be hardest hit overnight.

A flood watch remains in effect through late tonight, with the possibility of “considerable and life threatening” flash flooding in New York City, as well as surrounding areas, including parts of southern Connecticut, northeastern New Jersey and Long Island, according to the National Weather Service.

Through the night, the storm is expected to shift eastward to Long Island, and the M.T.A. cautioned Long Island Railroad riders to expect cancellations and delays during the evening commute.

Ms. Hochul said at a news conference that Westchester County was starting to experience serious rain, expanding the storm’s scope beyond the five boroughs and Long Island. New York was on track to see 10 inches of rainfall over 24 hours; the last time the area had this much rain was in 1955, and that was over a two-day period, she said, describing the rainfall as “Hurricane Ida-level waters.”

By the end of the day, New York City will have received as much rain as it usually does over a three-month span, said Janno Lieber, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Mayor Eric Adams said in an interview with CBS News around 5 p.m. that no fatalities had been reported.

The severity of the storm depended not only on the volume of rainfall, but also on how long it lingered over the region. The storm was “slow moving,” according to the National Weather Service, making flooding more likely. By Friday evening, the Bronx River had reached 4.9 feet, and was at risk of breaching its banks.

“It is not finished yet — there is more rain on the way,” Ms. Hochul said at the news conference. “The loss of life comes when people get in their vehicles.”

Sept. 29, 2023, 6:45 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 6:45 p.m. ET

Tara Siegel Bernard

What New York homeowners and renters should know about flood insurance.

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It’s an unfortunate fact: Standard homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies don’t cover damages caused by flooding.

People who live in flood-prone areas are generally required by their mortgage lenders to buy a separate flood insurance policy. But if you own your home outright, or rent it, you need to do your own cost-benefit analysis and decide whether to buy such coverage.

It may be too late for residents of New York City and the surrounding area to buy policies to cover damages caused by the torrential rains that flooded the region on Friday, but more people may want to consider getting such policies for their future protection: A quarter of flood claims arise from properties that are outside high-risk areas, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but most homeowners in those areas are eligible for lower rates.

Most flood policies in the United States are issued through the federal National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by the emergency management agency, although coverage is also available in certain areas from private insurers, like Lloyd’s of London. (For more details, read my colleague Ann Carrns’s piece on flood insurance.)

Consumers should buy enough coverage to enable them to replace their assets in the event of a total loss, according to the advocacy group United Policyholders. But the national program has relatively low coverage limits: $250,000 for a residential building, and $100,000 for its contents (which is also available to renters).

Private flood policies can offer much higher coverage limits, as well as extra benefits, like “loss of use,” which pays lodging costs if your property is uninhabitable. But private insurers don’t have to offer any coverage if they deem a location too risky. And even if they extend coverage, it may be pricey. They can also decide not to renew a policy after a home experiences a flood.

If you are interested in buying coverage through the national program, you may have to wait: A shutdown of the federal government, which could happen Sunday morning, could cause the program to run out of money until Congress reaches an agreement to keep the government funded.

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Sept. 29, 2023, 5:42 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:42 p.m. ET

David Waldstein

In Mamaroneck, boats and tractors rescued people and a dog named Mocha.

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In Mamaroneck, N.Y., rescue squads used boats, front-end loaders and fire trucks to carry people out of houses and apartment buildings on flooded streets on Friday as rain caused two converging rivers to overflow. It is a familiar procedure there for residents and emergency workers. The Westchester town went through a similar — though not quite as severe — process two years ago during Hurricane Ida, which caused millions of dollars in damages.

Michael Portillo, 18, and his family had to evacuate their building when water rose waist-deep in their first-floor apartment on Friday. They grabbed some clothes and some food but did not know where they would go for shelter.

They are without homeowner’s insurance, and Mr. Portillo recalled that after Hurricane Ida, it took his family members four months to get back to their home.

“It’s the same thing,” Mr. Portillo said as he watched motorized rescue rafts float through what had been a grassy park just hours before. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll get back.”

Thomas Murphy, the mayor of Mamaroneck, oversaw rescue efforts at the worst-hit location, at the confluence of the Sheldrake and Mamaroneck rivers near the town’s Metro North train station. By 3 p.m., many residents, and at least one dog, had already been ferried out by front-end loaders and rafts. Wendy Maldonado, who lives on Center Avenue, could not reach her apartment because the street was underwater. She gave keys to workers in a front-end loader, who rescued her dog, Mocha, and reunited them on the street.

“I have no words to describe how happy and thankful I am,” she said as the dog wagged its tail and shook off the rain.

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Mr. Murphy said the town’s police, fire, emergency services and public works departments had all been mobilized, along with Westchester County crews. He said dozens of streets had been closed and children from a local elementary school along Mamaroneck Avenue had been cut off from parents arriving from the western side of the street. The students were taken by rescue workers to the town’s courthouse for parents to pick them up there.

“It’s awful, but unfortunately we’ve seen worse,” Mr. Murphy said. “It tries our patience, but we are a resilient bunch. As soon as the last raindrop falls, we begin rebuilding.”

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (7)

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:34 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:34 p.m. ET

Erin Nolan

Torrential rain coincided with high tide on the Hudson River this morning, causing severe flooding in parts of Hoboken, N.J., said Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla. “The timing was not ideal, but we don’t pick the timing. Mother Nature does,” Mr. Bhalla said, adding that the city was expected to get even more rain over the next several hours and through the weekend. “We are ready for this evening, he said, “but we caution all residents to please stay off the streets.”

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (8)

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:35 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:35 p.m. ET

Erin Nolan

Hoboken, much of which sits below sea level, has a long history of flooding, the mayor noted, and the city has made infrastructure improvements in recent years to mitigate the frequency and severity of floods. But when rain falls as hard and as quickly as it did on Friday morning, flooding is “inevitable,” he said.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (9)

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:29 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:29 p.m. ET

Jeff Mays

In a string of media appearances, Mayor Eric Adams continued to push back on criticism of his management of the storm. Asked about remarks by the Brooklyn borough president that the city should have done a better job of warning about the storm, Adams said elected officials should have been out helping inform their constituents. “This is not a time for tweets and news releases,” Adams said. “It’s time to be in the streets.”

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (10)

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:28 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:28 p.m. ET

Ana Ley

Janno Lieber, the M.T.A. chair, said that by the end of the day, the city will have gotten as much rain as it normally gets in two to three months. “This is really, as the governor said, historic,” he said.

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Sept. 29, 2023, 5:07 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 5:07 p.m. ET

Claire Fahy

If your car floods, don’t get in it. Call your insurance company.

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Parked cars across the five boroughs, but especially those in Brooklyn and Queens, had no defense against the rising water as heavy rains continued on Friday. On waterlogged streets around the city, cars sat idle, stranded in rainwater flooding over the curbs. So what should car owners do?

“Don’t try to turn it on,” said Kathy Zhunio, a mechanic at East River Auto in Astoria, Queens. “If the water goes into the engine, you will blow out your engine, which will worsen the problem.”

Two people had already towed their vehicles to her shop, Ms. Zhunio said. If you don’t start your car or try to drive it, it’s more likely that the car can be saved, she said, adding that it’s best to call your insurance company for advice.

But be ready for bad news. “You can never really fix flooded cars,” said Chris Eid, owner of L & B Auto Repair in the Greenwood Heights area of Brooklyn. “There’s always going to be little electrical gremlins and stuff like that.”

Models less than 12 or 13 years old are especially likely to have problems with their electrical systems after water exposure, Mr. Eid said.

Matt Gleason at United Auto Repair, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, agreed. Once a car’s electronics get soaked, he said, they’re never the same.

“There are like 20 electronic computers inside of the car,” Mr. Gleason said. “Even if you dry them out, they may work, but you’ll have different issues down the road.”

Older cars are easier to fix because there are fewer electrical components, but Ms. Zhunio noted that some people would rather get a new car than deal with the hassle of repair.

The last time Mr. Eid’s auto shop in Brooklyn was inundated with flooded cars was in September 2021, after Hurricane Ida, he said. He expects to see tow trucks lining up outside tomorrow morning, even though there’s not much he can do. He said a flooded car is as bad as a car totaled in a crash.

“You might as well junk your car, at that point,” Mr. Eid said, adding that if you have full insurance coverage, your car will be treated as if it were totaled and you will be paid accordingly. “Water damage beyond repair? That’s it.”

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (12)

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:57 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:57 p.m. ET

Emma Fitzsimmons

Mayor Eric Adams said in a radio interview that there had been no deaths or serious injuries reported from the storm. He said there had been at least three rescues from basem*nts and 15 rescues from cars. In response to criticism of his response, the mayor said: “If anyone was caught off guard, they had to be living under a rock.”

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (13)

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:43 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:43 p.m. ET

Hilary Howard

“It’s so bad,” said Bianca Bautista, who lives with her family in a neighborhood known as the Hole, along the Brooklyn-Queens border. The area sits below street level and is not connected to the sewer system. “There’s cars literally floating,” she said.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (14)

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:45 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:45 p.m. ET

Hilary Howard

Bautista is one of two tenants left in a building that is collapsing from water damage. She said mushrooms grow on the ceiling of her neighbor’s apartment, and mold grows on her clothing. Her block is impassable, she said. Her 5-year-old son's school bus did not stop there this morning, so he stayed home. They have to wade to another street to pick up food deliveries. She said the water was so high it got into her rain boots. “We are shut in here,” she said. “No one’s leaving this house.”

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (15)

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:41 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:41 p.m. ET

Luis Ferré Sadurní

Appearing on CNN, Gov. Kathy Hochul said New Yorkers should not take for granted a break in the rain, saying “we’re still in the throes of it.” She added: “My biggest concern right now is that people will see a lull in the rain and people will go out in their vehicles.”

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (16)

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:37 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:37 p.m. ET

Amelia Nierenberg

Amos Tamam, the chief executive of Curb, said the ride hailing app was seeing seven times more requests than usual as the rain continued through Friday afternoon.

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:26 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:26 p.m. ET

Claire Fahy

A sea lion escaped from her enclosure when the Central Park Zoo flooded.

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A female sea lion, known as Sally, escaped from her enclosure at the Central Park Zoo briefly on Friday, swimming out of the pool where she is kept when the heavy rains lashing New York City flooded the zoo grounds.

Workers monitored Sally’s movements as she explored the area around the enclosure before rejoining the zoo’s other two sea lions in the pool, said Jim Breheny of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zoos and Aquarium, which oversees four zoos and the city’s aquarium.

By 3 p.m., the water at the zoo had receded, and all animals were contained in their enclosures, Mr. Breheny said. No staff members were in danger during the storm, and the city’s four zoos were closed so that employees could focus on keeping animals safe.

For Karen Dugan and her colleagues at the city’s parks department, the roving sea lion made for a rare sight from their third-floor offices in the agency’s headquarters at the Arsenal, a building inside the park that overlooks the zoo.

“When we got to the Arsenal, everything was pretty flooded,” she said. “We watched it explore around the enclosure and then go back in.”

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Sept. 29, 2023, 4:26 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:26 p.m. ET

Andy Newman

Inside tent shelters built for migrants, water dripped on beds and puddles formed on the floor.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (19)

At the tent complex housing more than a thousand migrants on Randall’s Island, conditions were soggy and miserable.

Videos and photos taken Friday by people staying in both women’s and men’s tents on the island show water coming in, some small puddles on the floor, and rain dripping onto the cots where people sleep. Some cots have tarps on them, but others do not, and are getting wet.

Tent dormitories were erected on the island — an expanse of playing fields and institutional buildings off the coast of Manhattan — and in the parking lot of a state psychiatric hospital in Queens, to house some of the tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived in the city since last year. The tents house only adults without children. Families with children are staying at other locations, mostly hotels.

In one video, taken in a women’s tent on Randall’s Island, someone can be heard yelling “El agua!” as water infiltrates her possessions. The woman who shot the video, who would not allow her name to be published citing a fear of reprisals, said the rain had been coming in all day. A spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Adams said the city was addressing the issue.

Anyone hoping to get a bus off Randall’s Island to take refuge elsewhere was out of luck; the M35, which connects it to Manhattan, was suspended because of flooding on the island, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Flooding and potential flooding at migrant tent cities has been a persistent concern since the city started building them last year. The city dismantled the first tented dormitory it put up, at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, after a rainstorm of less than an inch flooded it last October.

At Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport in Brooklyn where the city plans to erect another tent complex, there were inches of standing water on the roads, which could be seen in a video posted this morning by City Councilwoman Joann Ariola on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This isn’t even a tropical storm,” she wrote. “What will happen if a hurricane comes through?

This is the depth of the water at Floyd Bennett Field today. This is where the city and some in the federal government want to place migrants in the very near future. And this isn’t even a tropical storm - what will happen if a hurricane comes through? @NMalliotakis @ABC7NYpic.twitter.com/fVTu0bLAxH

— Joann Ariola NYC Council District 32 (@JoannAriola32) September 29, 2023

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (20)

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:17 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 4:17 p.m. ET

Erin Nolan

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency. “Throughout the state, especially in the north and central regions, we are experiencing heavy rainfalls resulting in hazardous conditions, and the rainfall is expected to accelerate in many parts of the state over the next several hours,” he said. “Flooding remains a significant concern due to the heavy rains much of the state already experienced this week. Residents should stay off the roads, remain alert, and follow all safety protocols.”

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (21)

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:55 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:55 p.m. ET

Emma Fitzsimmons

Jumaane Williams, New York City’s public advocate, criticized Mayor Adams’s response to the storm: “From orange skies to flooded streets, a pattern is becoming clear — the administration has been delayed and insufficient in using the most effective tools in notifying New Yorkers about extreme weather emergencies which are only increasing in frequency.”

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (22)

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:52 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:52 p.m. ET

Bernard Mokam

Little Ways, a bistro in SoHo by the corner of West Broadway and Grand Street, plans to open tonight. One of the owners, Ronnie Flynn, and his team have placed sandbags around the front deck. The hope is the sandbags will seal the perimeter and protect the inside of the restaurant from any water damage. “My guess is everyone is going to try and get open tonight,” said Flynn, referring to the other restaurants on the block. He added: “We have to keep making money.”

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Sept. 29, 2023, 3:52 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:52 p.m. ET

Ana Ley

The rain has wreaked havoc on the city’s mass transit system.

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Flooding shut down half of New York City’s subway lines on Friday, sending travelers scrambling to reach their destinations as they waded through the flooded streets and train stations.

The rain poured so intensely at times that commuters stood on the benches inside bus shelters to avoid the floodwaters. Transit workers were evacuating subway stations while maintenance crews pumped thousands of gallons of water a minute from subway tunnels.

Gov. Kathy Hochul called the bad weather a “life-threatening rainfall event,” as transit officials urged riders to stay home.

“There’s children who use the subway to get home from school,” Ms. Hochul said during a news conference. “People need to be able to know if they can get home from work. And so that is priority No. 1: that our subways and our rail systems are safe.”

About half of all subway lines were either fully or partially suspended because of the rain. Service on the Metro-North Railroad, the commuter line connecting New York to its northern suburbs, was also badly affected. Travel in and out of Grand Central Terminal — the railroad’s main hub — was suspended because water had submerged the system’s electrified third rail network in the Bronx. Janno Lieber, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, urged passengers to consider the bus system because it was fully operational aside from some delays.

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Still, in Queens, a bus station worker told a group of travelers that flooding around La Guardia Airport was slowing trips by up to 30 minutes at a busy nearby bus stop in Jackson Heights. Chris Buzan, visiting from Phoenix with his wife, Kim, and two sons, hoped they could make their flight home.

“Fingers crossed,” Mr. Buzan said. When the bus finally arrived, several minutes later, the Buzans managed to squeeze in, but other travelers had no choice but to stay behind.

Train crews scrambled to adjust service as heavy rain flooded the Canal Street station in Lower Manhattan, while in Brooklyn it submerged the tracks at President Street and Seventh Avenue. Major train lines that crisscross the city were cut off or delayed. There was no 2, 3, 4 or 5 train service in Brooklyn, and the B and G train lines were suspended, among other service interruptions.

In Brooklyn, some subway station entrances were blocked off with yellow caution tape. Crowded Manhattan-bound Q trains were stalled at stations as passengers squeezed in, with some travelers enduring commutes that had stretched hours longer than usual.

Aissatou Diallo, 18, said she had no choice but to wait at the Prospect Park station in Brooklyn, because she needed to get to a class at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, on the West Side of Manhattan. “Everyone is squished,” Ms. Diallo said. “It’s better to be late than not show up at all.”

Andrew Keh, Hurubie Meko, Zeke Minaya and Joseph Goldstein contributed reporting.

A correction was made on

Sept. 29, 2023

:

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the route of the G subway route in New York City. The train travels between Brooklyn and Queens and does not go into Manhattan.

How we handle corrections

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:49 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:49 p.m. ET

Hilary Howard

Climate change is bringing more rain to New York, and the city is not ready.

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This is now the wettest September in New York City in more than 100 years.

Climate change is very likely a contributing factor because as the atmosphere heats up, it can hold more moisture, said Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a senior staff associate and expert in flash flooding at Columbia Climate School at Columbia University. New York City is not ready for this new reality, he said.

“Overall, we are not prepared for a future with increasingly extreme heavy precipitation events, especially in areas with aging infrastructure and lack of appropriate early warning systems,” he said.

When rain occurs in a concentrated burst as opposed to a daylong event, he said, parts of the city, especially those with dips and bends and covered with impermeable materials that can’t absorb the water, are particularly vulnerable to flooding. “People forget that New York City has topography,” he said. New York’s poorest neighborhoods, which can lack even outdated infrastructure, are especially vulnerable, he added.

The combination of “poor drainage plus imperviousness of the surfaces and intense rainfall from the sky” tends to affect neighborhoods that are unlike coastal flooding zones, although there is some crossover, said Mr. Kruczkiewicz, who said he is closely monitoring vulnerable communities in the Bronx and Central Queens as the rain continues.

“This precipitation event is different from other events we’ve seen this month,” he said. “What we are seeing today is more rain, in a shortened period of time,” he explained, referring to the nearly four inches of rain that fell in just three hours in Central Park this morning. “We have not seen that level of intensity this month, and that’s why we are experiencing flash floods this time around.”

Mr. Kruczkiewicz said the challenge in dealing with the increased likelihood of storms will be communicating the risk of flash floods before they happen. “Early warning is not enough, we need action plans,” he said.

In 1882, almost 17 inches of rain fell during September in New York City, establishing the historical high, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (25)

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:29 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:29 p.m. ET

John Keefe

There’s a new flash flood warning for Nassau County in effect until 6:15 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. The M.T.A. warned that Long Island Rail Road riders should expect cancellations and delays during the evening commute.

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (26)

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:48 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:48 p.m. ET

John Keefe

The Weather Service has also added a flash flood warning for Suffolk County, effective until 6:45 p.m.

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (27)

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:25 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:25 p.m. ET

Stefanos Chen

Mircea Abrantes, 38, and Florence Layne, 66, were on the same flight to Houston on Thursday, which they both missed. Resigned to catching the next available flight on Friday afternoon, they spent the night hunched over airport benches. Then the deluge struck. Around 9 or 10 a.m., floodwater rushed into the waiting area of Terminal A, sending travelers running for higher ground, Layne said. Their 12:30 p.m. flight was canceled, the terminal was evacuated, and the women were shuttled to Terminal C. The next available flight to Houston leaves tomorrow afternoon — from Newark.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (28)

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:25 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:25 p.m. ET

Stefanos Chen

“I can’t take any more of it; I’m just tired,” said Layne, who had abandoned her plans to attend a business convention in Houston. She plans to catch a bus, and then a train, back to her apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. But Abrantes, who traveled from Manchester, England, for the same convention, was still weighing options.

“I was so looking forward to this event,” Abrantes said. “I spent so much for my gowns to this gala.” She hadn’t decided whether driving to New Jersey was worth it on Friday afternoon. Either way, Abrantes expects she’ll spend another night in the airport while she sorts out her plans.

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:17 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 3:17 p.m. ET

Patrick McGeehan and Hilary Howard

This is why New York City keeps flooding.

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All drainage systems have their limitations and New York City’s is 1.75 inches of rainfall per hour. Unfortunately for many New Yorkers, the storm that deluged the region on Friday dropped more than two inches between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. — and then kept on coming.

The limit on the capacity of the city’s network of drains, pipes and water-treatment plants is the main reason New Yorkers across all five boroughs suffered through flooding. And this probably will not be the city’s last bout with heavy flooding as it plays catch-up with the pace of climate change, experts said.

“This changing weather pattern is the result of climate change, and the sad reality is our climate is changing faster than our infrastructure can respond,” said Rohit Aggarwala, commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

The rush-hour downpour on Friday overwhelmed the 7,400 miles of pipes that carry storm water and sewage under the city’s hard surfaces to treatment plants or into the nearest rivers and bays. The runoff backed up into the streets, causing flooding that swamped cars and seeped into basem*nts and subway stations in Brooklyn and Queens.

The scenes of water rushing over roads and sidewalks were similar to those in 2021 when Hurricane Ida inundated the city and left 11 people dead in Queens. That storm was a warning sign, said Daniel A. Zarrilli, a special adviser to Columbia University on the institution’s climate and sustainability practices.

“We’re in this new territory where we’re seeing higher intensity rainfalls like this,” said Mr. Zarrilli, a former climate policy adviser to the mayor. “Once you’ve exceeded the capacity of the sewers themselves, that’s what causes these backups. When the pipes can’t handle it, it backs up.”

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About 60 percent of New York City has a drainage system that combines storm runoff with sewage in the same pipes. When the flow through those pipes is more than double what the sewage treatment plants were designed to handle, the excess — a mix of rain and untreated sewage — goes straight into local waterways like the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, the East River or Jamaica Bay.

But as the sewer system backs up, some of that untreated wastewater winds up in the basem*nts of homes and businesses around the city, said Dave Balkan, who runs Balkan Sewer & Water Main Service in the Richmond Hill section of Queens.

“When it gets inundated to this degree, it backflows,” Mr. Balkan said. “That’s when regular people start having sewer water bursting out of their drains or their basem*nt toilets.”

His company was “getting tons of calls” from distressed and disgusted homeowners on Friday. He said he responded as a courtesy, but “at the time it’s happening, there’s nothing you can do for them.”

They just have to wait for the system to clear and pull the muck back through the pipes, Mr. Balkan said. He was reluctant to estimate how long that would take because the storm had lasted so long.

“Usually we get a flash storm, but it’s kind of been raining all week,” he said. “This is an event.”

Solving the city’s growing problems with storm water will require “a lot of investment in infrastructure and a lot of creativity,” Mr. Zarrilli said.

A 2021 report from the city called “The New Normal” estimated that “recalibrating our sewers for storms like Ida” would take decades and cost $100 billion. Upgrading the system in Southeast Queens alone cost $2 billion, it noted.

In the meantime, the city has been working with federal officials to create some places for the excess water to go, other than straight into the sewer system, and potentially into the waterways, said Ben Furnas, a former director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability who is now executive director of the 2030 Project at Cornell University.

“There are lots of strategies to make a place for the water to go and be stored so it doesn’t end up tipping off into the creeks or canals,” Mr. Furnas said. He said significant investments had been made in “gray infrastructure” like large holding tanks and “green infrastructure” like gardens set in sidewalks that can absorb some of the rainwater.

“It’s a really challenging problem to solve because we have this legacy infrastructure system and its capacity is being exceeded,” said Franco Montalto, a flooding expert and engineer. “You can either manage excess water underground or you manage it on the surface.”

Dr. Montalto cited an initiative in Copenhagen, where officials redesigned streets to hold water temporarily. Certain intersections, he explained, are depressed or sunken, to draw water away from neighborhoods and allow it to pool at a depth that is safe for cars to pass through. Eventually, the water runs off into parks and other green spaces.

Upmanu Lall, an engineer and the director of the Columbia Water Center, said he would like to see more pumps installed in the city’s sewer system to move excess water and prevent overflows. “We have limited capacity to discharge the water, which leads to more possibility for internal flooding,” he said.

Candace Agonafir, who conducts research with Dr. Lall, said one factor in the disastrous flooding during Hurricane Ida was the accumulation of trash and other debris that blocked the rain from getting into the sewers.

Dr. Agonafir was part of a study that looked at flooding in the city through 311 complaints. It found that “for an appreciable number of ZIP codes, infrastructural complaints were found to be predictors of street flooding complaints.”

And one way to address it, the study noted, involved “improving the internal and external components of the drainage network” to “reduce some of the physical and economic impacts of street flooding in metropolitan areas.”

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (31)

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:59 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:59 p.m. ET

Nikita Richardson

Some of New York’s most popular restaurants announced temporary closures on Instagram. Ugly Baby, an acclaimed Thai restaurant in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and Superiority Burger, a cult favorite for its vegetarian and vegan menu in the East Village, both canceled dinner service. Ursula, known for its New Mexico-style burritos, closed early, as did Bubby’s, a chain of homestyle restaurants. Others pushed on: Chocobar Cortés in the South Bronx promised 10 percent off for any diners who showed a special Instagram post to their server.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (32)

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:56 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:56 p.m. ET

Emma G. Fitzsimmons,Dana Rubinstein and Jeffery C. Mays

Adams is criticized again for response to severe weather as city is deluged.

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Less than four months ago, Mayor Eric Adams was widely criticized for not giving New Yorkers adequate warning when the city’s air quality worsened rapidly. He shook off the critics, insisting that his administration could not have been expected to do more.

On Thursday, as it became clear that a major storm was about to hit New York, the mayor had the opportunity to take a different approach.

Gov. Kathy Hochul acted first, telling residents to be prepared for flash floods, and warning in a radio interview Thursday evening of “havoc throughout the downstate region.” State transit officials also held a news conference on Thursday to discuss the coming storm.

Mr. Adams, however, did not hold a news conference or address the public until almost noon on Friday after large swaths of the city were already under water and service had been suspended on half the subway system.

By contrast, Mr. Adams attended a campaign fund-raiser Thursday night at a scenic restaurant along the Hudson River in Manhattan to celebrate his 63rd birthday earlier this month. Suggested contributions were listed at $2,100.

His office released its first statement about the storm, a “travel advisory” warning of the heavy rains, via email at 11 p.m. Nearly 12 hours later, just before the mayor was scheduled to address reporters for the first time — and 23 hours after the National Weather Service warned of flash flooding in the city — the Adams administration asked New Yorkers to “stay home if you don’t need to travel.”

Mr. Adams, a Democrat in his second year in office, defended his response at the news conference. He said that “all of the necessary precautions were taken” and that he had relied on members of his administration to alert city residents.

“There was not an absence of a voice of this administration,” he said. Ms. Hochul noted at the same news conference that the storm’s epicenter had by then shifted from the city to the Hudson Valley.

Later, in a radio interview, Mr. Adams curtly suggested that New Yorkers had ample warning of the storm, saying: “If anyone was caught off guard, they had to be living under a rock.”

Mr. Adams received steady criticism throughout the day, with elected officials arguing that an earlier and more urgent warning might have prompted New Yorkers living in basem*nt apartments to seek higher ground or persuaded residents with plans to drive someplace to stay home instead.

Jessica Ramos, a Democratic state senator from Queens and a potential mayoral candidate in 2025, said New Yorkers should have been warned more vigorously. Jennifer Gutiérrez, a City Council member who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, said that the city had not embraced the lessons learned from Hurricane Ida in 2021.

Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, faulted the Adams administration for what he called a pattern of “delayed and insufficient” communication.

I think the city needs to be doing much, much more,” said Shekar Krishnan, a city councilman who represents Jackson Heights and Elmhurst in Queens. “This is a rapidly evolving situation. It’s changing every hour and getting worse.”

Mr. Krishnan said his office was monitoring calls from residents of basem*nt apartments, fearful of a repeat of the deaths that occurred during Hurricane Ida.

This is just, again, a glaring example of how utterly unprepared we are as a city when it comes to climate emergencies,” he said.

Criticism of the city’s response to a looming emergency was not unusual for Mr. Adams, nor was his strident defense. When smoke from Canadian forest fires blanketed New York in June, neither the mayor nor Ms. Hochul appeared publicly for 12 hours, leaving many New Yorkers unprepared for the dangerously poor air quality.

Mr. Adams asked reporters if he should also be prepared if a “meteor fell to the planet Earth.” A City Council hearing later examined his response to the smoky air episode, and concluded it was sluggish.

Some city agencies did spring into action on Thursday.

Zach Iscol, the emergency management commissioner, said on Friday that he had given two media interviews about the storm the day before, and that the city had sent a flood-watch alert shortly before 3 p.m. via the Notify NYC service, which has 1.1 million subscribers.

At noon Thursday, the Emergency Management Department activated its flash flood management plan, a spokesman for the agency said. In concert with that plan, the Environmental Protection Department cleared catch basins and instructed residents to deploy the 5,000 flood barriers the agency has handed out in the past year.

Other agencies appeared to be responding more slowly. It was not until 10:30 a.m. Friday that the Transportation Department announced a suspension of alternate-side parking regulations, a step typically taken in advance of inclement weather.

Although 150 schools experienced some flooding and one had to be evacuated, Mr. Adams said that school officials had acted correctly in keeping schools open, and not switching to remote learning for the day.

At the briefing on Friday, city officials said emergency workers had rescued people from six flooded basem*nts to that point.

Annetta Seecharran, the executive director of the Chhaya Community Development Corporation, a group that works on housing issues for low-income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers, said the city’s response to the storm had been inadequate.

She said her group had received reports of basem*nt apartments flooding in parts of Queens, including East Elmhurst.

“It’s been two years,” Ms. Seecharran said. “We knew this was going to happen again. There’s absolutely no reason that nothing meaningful has changed. We are in the midst of another serious deluge and homeowners and basem*nt dwellers are still on their own.”

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After Hurricane Ida, in which 13 New Yorkers died, Mr. Adams, who had won the Democratic primary for mayor months earlier, expressed shock that he had seen flooding in inland parts of Brooklyn. He said the city needed to “think differently” about how to respond to the effects of climate change.

The administration of his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, said in a report after the storm that the hurricane had been “a frightening lesson in our new reality” and had promised to act “more aggressively than ever to alert New Yorkers to the maximum possible impact.” (Mr. de Blasio was also criticized for being unprepared and slow in responding to Ida.)

“This will mean earlier warnings, more evacuations, and more travel bans — all coordinated by a new senior position at City Hall, the Extreme Weather Coordinator,” the report said.

Emma Wolfe, a former deputy mayor in Mr. de Blasio’s administration, filled that role initially. It was unclear on Friday whether anyone had succeeded her after Mr. Adams took office. The city also vowed to identify all basem*nt apartment dwellers and help them put evacuation plans in place. It was one of dozens of promises contained in the report.

A spokesman for Mr. Adams did not respond when asked how many of the promises contained in the post-Ida report City Hall had fulfilled.

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (33)

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:53 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:53 p.m. ET

Gaya Gupta

Though some food stands around Manhattan appeared closed, many remained open, serving regular customers and nearby workers. The Nomad outpost of Jamrock Jerk, a Jamaican food truck with several locations around the city, was selling warm oxtail, rice and plantains, and playing reggae instrumentals over the rain.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (34)

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:53 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:53 p.m. ET

Gaya Gupta

Leshon Gardener, who has worked at the truck since April, greeted one of her regulars, who ordered his usual plate of jerk chicken and rice. “Rain or shine we’re here, right?” she said to him. She said that while business was a little slower than usual, the stand was getting a steady stream of online orders picked up by Uber Eats and DoorDash workers biking in the rain.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (35)

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:39 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:39 p.m. ET

Joe Van Acker

On Prospect Place in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a fallen tree crushed a parked car and blocked the street. Its roots were visible beneath upturned chunks of sidewalk.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (36)

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (37)

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:34 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:34 p.m. ET

Andy Newman

The worst of the rain will leave Manhattan in the next few hours as the storm gradually heads east, said Dominic Ramunni, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “We’ve got Manhattan on the western edge of it now, with the heaviest rain over Queens and western Nassau County,” he said. But he added, “We’re still dealing with it: We still have that firehose of moisture coming on shore.”

Kennedy Airport in Queens has now recorded its wettest September day, with 7.22 inches, Ramunni said.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (38)

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:17 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:17 p.m. ET

Judson Jones

More than six inches of rain have fallen in certain parts of the New York City area since midnight. In a video post on Facebook, the National Weather Service showed where the rainfall was heaviest -- at times falling at rates of more than an inch per hour.

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Sept. 29, 2023, 2:16 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:16 p.m. ET

Christine Chung

Flights were delayed or canceled at airports in the New York region.

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Heavy rain and dangerous flash flooding delayed and canceled flights on Friday at La Guardia and Kennedy Airports, with the number of grounded flights also mounting at other airports in the Northeast. Wait times crept up to nearly an hour at Newark Liberty International Airport and Boston Logan International Airport.

At Kennedy, the average delay for outbound flights is more than three hours. And the extreme weather hasn’t just kept flights on the ground. At La Guardia, floodwaters began rising in Terminal A, forcing it to close. Terminal A handles, on average, fewer than 10 percent of La Guardia’s flights, said Amanda Kwan, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the area’s airports.

WOW - incredible flooding inside Terminal A at #LGA #nbc4ny pic.twitter.com/xCB4Je3is4

— Steven Bognar (@Bogs4NY) September 29, 2023

Mircea Abrantes, 38, and Florence Layne, 66, were on the same flight to Houston from La Guardia on Thursday night, which they both missed. Resigned to catching the next available flight on Friday afternoon, they spent the night hunched over airport benches in the waiting area of Terminal A. Then the deluge struck.

Around 9 or 10 a.m., flood water rushed into the terminal, sending travelers running for higher ground, Ms. Layne said. Their 12:30 p.m. flight with Spirit Airlines was canceled, the terminal was evacuated, and the women were shuttled to Terminal C. The next available flight to Houston leaves tomorrow afternoon — from Newark.

“I can’t take any more of it; I’m just tired,” said Ms. Layne, who has abandoned her plans to attend a business convention in Houston. She plans to catch a bus, and then a train, back to her apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

But Ms. Abrantes, who traveled from Manchester, England, for the same convention, is still weighing her options.

“I was so looking forward to this event,” Ms. Abrantes said. “I spent so much for my gowns to this gala.” She was still trying to decide whether driving to New Jersey was worth it on Friday afternoon. Either way, Ms. Abrantes expects she’ll spend another night in the airport while she sorts out her travel plans.

The diminished operations at the area’s airports are not more pronounced then they would be on a typical stormy day, said Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for Flightradar24, a flight-tracking company. But this could change if flights are grounded for a prolonged period, he said.The airspace in and around metro New York is the busiest and most complex in the country, according to the Port Authority. About 30 percent of flights in the United States pass through New York area airports at some point each day, Mr. Petchenik said.

Passengers can expect “rippling impact and cancellations through the rest of today,” said Michael McCormick, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a former control tower operator for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The adage is, the way New York goes, so does the system,” he added.

Stefanos Chen contributed reporting.

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Sept. 29, 2023, 2:15 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:15 p.m. ET

Mihir Zaveri

Basem*nt apartments can be deadly in rain storms. Why does the city want to legalize them?

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The tens of thousands of illegal apartments located in basem*nts and cellars across New York City are among the most dangerous places to be during a heavy storm. During the remnants of Hurricane Ida two years ago, 11 people died in basem*nt homes.

Yet Friday’s floods renewed urgent calls to legalize them — a seemingly counterintuitive response, which officials and housing experts say is needed to save lives.

Nobody has a good estimate of just how many there are, but city officials estimate the apartments are home to some 100,000 people. Their proliferation is one consequence of the city’s housing crisis — because the cost of rent in legal homes is so high, illegal apartments are often all that is available to people with lower incomes, or immigrants who don’t have access to housing subsidies.

But because these homes are essentially hidden from view, they are often not properly regulated or inspected, meaning that faulty electrical wiring, which can pose a fire danger, can be overlooked. And many such apartments have only a single entry or exit point making it easier for floodwaters to trap people inside.

People who live in them worry that if they complain to the city about unsafe conditions they could lose their homes, said Howard Slatkin, the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a nonprofit housing group.

Finding ways to legalize and renovate these units, Mr. Slatkin said, could make them safer. But it would require eliminating outdated requirements, like those mandating that every legal unit has its own parking spot. State laws impose a slew of additional requirements — like rooftop parapets — on buildings that officially have multiple living units.

The Basem*nt Apartments Safe for Everyone campaign, a coalition of housing advocates and other groups, said in a statement that Friday’s rains and floods are “predictable emergencies, yet the city and state remain unprepared to protect New Yorkers.”

A pilot program initiated by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, intended to help homeowners finance upgrades and legalize their basem*nt homes, largely foundered, and a push by Gov. Kathy Hochul to give the city more flexibility in regulating basem*nt homes imploded in the state legislature this spring. Now, Mayor Eric Adams is pursuing some changes that would legalize more of these apartments, but those won’t be considered by the City Council until next year.

“We hope that basem*nt and cellar tenants will be able to stay safe this weekend, despite inaction from their government,” the basem*nt apartments coalition said in its statement. “We yet again call on Albany and city lawmakers to make basem*nt and cellar legalization a priority this year.”

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (41)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:58 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:58 p.m. ET

Claire Fahy

Several subway grates and manholes caught fire in New York despite the downpour. The fire department responded to at least one manhole fire outside a Joe’s Pizza in the East Village on 14th Street and Third Avenue.

Fires occur when there is water or snow that seeps into manholes and reaches the electrical cables under the street, said Cynthia Rudin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University, who specializes in energy grid reliability. The insulation on the cables can break down, and when water hits the cables they short circuit, burning the cables’ insulation.

The 2021 Mayor’s Management Report noted that non-structural fires had more than doubled in New York between 2020 and 2021, an increase the mayor’s office directly attributed to a rise in manhole fires. That number decreased by 24 percent between 2021 and 2023, but still remains higher than in the past.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (42)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:55 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:55 p.m. ET

Jeff Mays

Antonio Reynoso, the borough president of Brooklyn, criticized the mayor and the governor for failing to better communicate about the dangerous storm that has led to “disastrous” flooding in his borough. “We need faster notification, clearer information about the severity of storms, and to act with greater urgency when there is a threat of inclement weather,” Reynoso said.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (43)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:48 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:48 p.m. ET

Gaya Gupta

Even though M.T.A signs and alerts urged New Yorkers to stay home and avoid travel if possible, subway stations were still packed with riders trying to get home or to work. Drenched riders stood shoulder to shoulder in packed subway cars on an uptown 6 train from the Astor Place station. Some could not make it on the train due to the crowds.

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Sept. 29, 2023, 1:24 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:24 p.m. ET

Troy Closson

More than 150 school buildings flooded, and one had to evacuate.

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Many principals across New York City rushed students to upper floors at their schools, as classrooms, gyms, kitchens and common areas on lower levels flooded.

As heavy rain and dangerous flooding pummeled the region on Friday, hundreds of thousands of students in the city’s school system, the nation’s largest, found their days drastically disrupted by the storm, and some families questioned why schools had remained open in the first place.

At least one school in Brooklyn was forced to evacuate students for rain-related problems. At a small handful of other individual schools and day care sites, staff members asked families to pick up their children as soon as possible, which school officials later said was “precisely the wrong thing to do.”

On social media, teachers reported that scores of children were spending the day soaking wet, as ceilings leaked from the rainwater and bathroom toilets backed up.

“Truthfully, holding school today knowing this was coming feels irresponsible,” said Jessamyn Lee, a Brooklyn parent of two, who added that while she understands that closing schools can be a challenging decision, the system appeared to be unprepared.

One of her children’s schools — Public School 84 Jose de Diego, in Williamsburg — reported flooding throughout the ground floor, including in the cafeteria and school kitchen. “Our kids are right now trapped at school, and some of them are trapped in buildings that are flooding,” said Ms. Lee, who is also a member of the Panel for Education Policy, the city school system’s governing body.

In a news conference on Friday, Mayor Eric Adams and the schools chancellor, David C. Banks, defended the city’s decision to keep schools open on Friday, adding that closing them would have been a “major, major disruption” for working families.

As of 12:15 p.m., about 150 school buildings had reported flooding, the chancellor said, while at least one Brooklyn school was required to evacuate to another nearby school because of a “smoking boiler.”

Still, Mr. Banks said, “nothing has impacted the ability for us to safely educate our students in any of those schools.”

Nathaniel Styer, an Education Department spokesman, said that “every one of our schools have safety plans in place, and are trained annually to prepare for days like today.”

More than 105 school buses had reported delays on Friday morning resulting from weather conditions, affecting nearly 250 schools. Those affected were predominately children with disabilities. Scores of other students faced disrupted travel, as service was delayed or suspended on several subway lines and traffic slowed on city streets.

Matthew Weeks, a parent in Downtown Brooklyn, said that he and his 3-year-old daughter had been stuck on a G train for more than two hours as they traveled to her Montessori preschool on Friday morning.

His daughter was “squirming around and crying,” he said, while the only announcements he heard had come from “a guy in a jovial, joking voice saying that none of the trains are moving.”

Eventually frustration grew, and several passengers began smoking cigarettes and cannabis between subway cars. At one point, a small group left the train to walk through the tunnel, Mr. Weeks said, including a teenage girl who seemed to be traveling to school.

“They did nothing to prepare, and didn’t manage it effectively,” he said of city and transit officials.

Even for the many students who successfully made it to school, the day felt anything but normal. Maude Stevens, a sophom*ore at Bard High School Early College on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, summed up her morning in two words: “Wet and miserable.”

When Maude, 15, and her friends arrived in the morning, teachers corralled them into an auditorium, later telling students that the school’s “entire first floor was flooded.” In her first period class, her teacher arrived 30 minutes late. By 11 a.m., she said, her classes were still missing 10 to 15 students.

At one point, a few students huddled in a bathroom to figure out how much an Uber might cost after afternoon dismissal. The prices were “upward of $200 to go two miles,” she said.

“I honestly have no idea how I’m getting home,” she said.

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (45)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:22 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:22 p.m. ET

Dana Rubinstein

In a letter Friday afternoon, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “approve any forthcoming requests for FEMA assistance from New York State as affected communities begin their recovery from these floods.”

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (46)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:21 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:21 p.m. ET

Erin Nolan

Early Friday afternoon, the mayor of Hoboken, N.J., issued a state of emergency because of the heavy rain and flooding. The rain, which had subsided, picked up again around 1 p.m.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (47)

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (48)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:20 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:20 p.m. ET

Gaya Gupta

N.Y.U. students trudged to class in the downpour, their backpacks tucked under raincoats and umbrellas. Haanee Avril, a sophom*ore from Ecuador, said that none of her classes today had been cancelled, though her organic chemistry professor was 30 minutes late.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (49)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:16 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:16 p.m. ET

David Waldstein

At the New Rochelle station for the Metro North and Amtrak lines, stranded travelers sought answers from railroad officials. Around noon, Metro North trains bound for Grand Central Terminal were only going as far as Williams Bridge Station in the Bronx. An announcement over the public address system declared that “most of our trains are not going to Grand Central.”

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (50)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:18 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:18 p.m. ET

David Waldstein

Some riders opted for costly ride shares. Kate Quinn, who works for the Melissa & Doug toy company, was headed to Times Square to prepare for this weekend’s Toy Fair at the Javits Center. She and a colleague hailed a $170 ride share, with no certainty that roads into Manhattan would be open.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (51)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:09 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:09 p.m. ET

Amelia Nierenberg

“The conditions around the metro are treacherous,” said Dominic Ramunni, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, adding that the rainfall at Kennedy Airport was quickly approaching a record for a single day in September. “We’re a quarter-inch shy,” he said.

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Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (52)

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:08 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 1:08 p.m. ET

Hurubie Meko

An emergency alert announcing a flash flood warning until 4 p.m. was sent to some New Yorkers' phones Friday afternoon. “This is a dangerous and life-threatening situation,” the alert said. “Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.”

Sept. 29, 2023, 12:50 p.m. ET

Sept. 29, 2023, 12:50 p.m. ET

Mihir Zaveri and Christopher Maag

A family remembers a child and his parents, neighbors who died in the last catastrophic rains.

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At around 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Joy Wong plugged a pump into a wall in her house as her basem*nt filled with water. Her desperation was all too familiar — three people, including a toddler, had drowned in the basem*nt of the house where she lives, when the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit New York City two years ago.

“I’m experiencing PTSD right now,” she said.

As floodwaters inundated the city, they also poured into apartments located in basem*nts and cellars, underscoring how such homes — where an estimated 100,000 New Yorkers live — can turn into death traps.

Ms. Wong, 61, lives at the corner of Laurel Hill Boulevard and 64th Street in Queens. The child who died in 2021 was a 2-year-old boy who lived with his parents in an apartment downstairs from Ms. Wong’s. Eleven people died in their basem*nt homes in that storm.

The night before the flood from Hurricane Ida, Ms. Wong said, “I kept calling them, and telling them to get out. I said, ‘Come upstairs. You can sleep on our couch. It’s OK.’ ” When she spoke with them in the morning, they told her the water was pouring in the window.

“After that, I didn’t hear from them again,” she said. “We went outside to the side of the house to try to save them. We tried to pull them out. But the water was like an ocean.”

Many basem*nt apartments cannot be rented legally, and do not have adequate means of escape should surging waters rush in. They are often rented to immigrants, or others desperate for an affordable place to live, even if it doesn’t feels safe. The city has long been aware of the dangers posed by the vast network of basem*nt homes, and is seeking to legalize them so that they can be held to higher safety standards. So far, they have failed to do so.

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Friday morning, Ms. Wong woke up to find three inches of water in the basem*nt of the house, where she is a renter. Soon the water level jumped. In five minutes, the basem*nt was filled with water, she said.

Because of their fears of flooding, everyone in her family — six children, ages 6 to 38; her ex-husband; and her mother, who only moved into the house a day ago, after having surgery on her back — has moved upstairs, and stopped sleeping in the basem*nt altogether.

The family would like to move, but feels stuck. “People died in this house. We don’t want to live here,” she said.

“Why did the New York City building department allow this house to be built here?” Ms. Wong asked. “Does my life not matter? Do the lives of my children not matter? It’s dangerous to live here. But it’s cheap! That’s why all my children live here with me. But we can’t live this way.”

A spokesman for the Buildings Department, Andrew Rudansky, said the three people who died “were occupying an illegal unpermitted cellar apartment,” adding that “prior to Hurricane Ida, this illegally created apartment was not reported to the city.”

“No one should be living in the cellar of this building,” he said.

Flooding in New York: Rain Eases, but Officials Warn That Flood Risks Remain (2024)

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