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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

After intense floods, New York City lurches back to life

Commuters stand on a bus stop bench amid rising floodwaters on Friday morning in the Bronx, Sept. 29, 2023.

By Erin Nolan and Hurubie Meko

After record-breaking rains swamped the subway, grounded flights and flooded streets in New York City and the surrounding region Friday, New Yorkers resumed their routines the next morning. Rain showers continued Saturday, putting some areas at risk of further flooding, but they were expected to taper off by evening.

On Saturday, the New York City metropolitan area was no longer under a flood watch, the alert that indicates that flooding is possible, according to the National Weather Service. A flood watch remained in effect until Sunday afternoon around New Haven, Connecticut.

At a news conference Saturday morning, Gov. Kathy Hochul thanked New Yorkers for heeding official warnings. There were no storm-related fatalities, she said, adding that emergency teams had made 28 rescues from “raging waters” in the Hudson Valley and Long Island.

“I want to emphasize how serious this event was,” Hochul said, adding that climate change was making such storms “a new normal.”

As of 9:30 p.m. Friday, rainfall in parts of Nassau County on Long Island had reached slightly above 9 inches, while the area near Kennedy International Airport hit 8.6 inches — the most recorded in a single day, according to the weather service.

The downpour shut down half of the city’s subway lines Friday and suspended service on the Metro-North Railroad traveling in and out of the Grand Central Terminal. Service on the Long Island Rail Road was also significantly affected. Flights were delayed or canceled at the city’s airports, with travelers evacuated from one La Guardia terminal as floodwaters rose.

Hochul and Janno Lieber, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief, emphasized the need to improve city infrastructure to handle increasingly frequent and severe storms.

“We keep talking about the fact that the system was designed long ago for a rainfall at the rate of 1.75 inches per hour, and we are consistently getting more than that, so we need additional outflow,” Lieber said at the news conference.

The subway was up and running Saturday morning, although some Metro-North branches were still experiencing weather-related delays, according to the MTA. The LIRR and airports had resumed regular service.

The thoroughfares that had been closed as the storm swept through the city, including Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and the Belt Parkway, had reopened by Saturday morning.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management said in a statement that the agency was still assessing the extent of the damage caused by flooding, and that it was working to coordinate recovery efforts, including removing debris, clearing downed trees and gathering reports from residents about damage.

At least one city-run hospital was still experiencing the effects of storm-related damage.

Woodhull Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which operated on emergency generators for hours after a local power loss Friday, was evacuating all patients and staff members Saturday so the power company could make repairs, according to a statement.

“We are prepared to activate a full evacuation plan,” said hospital CEO Gregory Calliste.

The swim portion of the New York City Triathlon, scheduled for Sunday, was canceled because of “water quality concerns in the Hudson River” caused by the rainfall, according to the event’s website. It was replaced with a second leg of running.

The amount of rain that fell on the city and the surrounding region was comparable to that of Hurricane Ida in 2021, which killed at least 46 people in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, Hochul said at the news conference, adding that the absence of hurricane-level winds this time was “a blessing.”

John Murray, a meteorologist at the weather service, said that rain showers were expected to linger in the region until Saturday evening, but that they would be “nowhere to the level of the intensity we saw yesterday.”

In a Brooklyn neighborhood that has experienced flash flooding with increasing frequency, the end of one storm meant it was time to start preparing for the next one.

Julian Chavez lives in a ground-floor apartment at Fourth Avenue and Carroll Street in Gowanus. He and Joann Amitrano, who lives on the third floor of a nearby building that she owns, reinforce their doors throughout the year with boards and extra-strong duct tape. When heavy rain is on the way, they exchange updates on the forecast in a group chat with other neighbors. If it looks like a storm will be particularly bad, they suit up to clear drains of trash and gather materials to soak up the water that will inevitably seep into their homes.

Chavez said his apartment flooded with about 2 inches of water Friday. Outside, overturned trash cans floated next to cars that sat in water at least as high as their bumpers. Videos showed water rushing into an open maintenance hole, swirling into a whirlpool.

Amitrano, who was born in the neighborhood and moved back in 2001, said she had stepped up her preparations in recent years as storms became more intense. “You don’t expect this in Brooklyn,” she said.

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