Hours after the remnants of Hurricane Ida unleashed record rainfall across the Northeastern United States, killing at least 45 people and resulting in millions of dollars in damages, President Biden said the country was seeing the consequences of “the climate crisis.”
“The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms in the climate crisis are here,” Biden said in remarks delivered from the White House. “We need to be much better prepared.”
During an hours-long span that began Wednesday, more than 7 inches of rain fell across the Northeast, according to official totals, including more than 8 inches measured at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. The result of the latest deluge was yet more scenes of flooded neighborhoods, roadways and subway systems — a montage that, to hear Biden tell it, made the case that the country’s infrastructure system is in dire need of an upgrade to be able to withstand the ravages of climate change.
“When Congress returns this month, I’m going to press further action on my Build Back Better plan that’s going to make historic investments in electrical infrastructure, modernizing our roads, bridges, our water systems, sewer and drainage systems, electric grids and transmission lines, and make them more resilient to these superstorms, wildfires and floods that are going to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity,” Biden said.
Numerous studies have shown that as global temperatures rise, the atmosphere holds more moisture, increasing the likelihood of extreme rainfall events such as the one that unfolded Wednesday night. For every 1 degree Celsius of temperature rise, the moisture in the atmosphere increases by 7 percent. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius thanks to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Combating that threat, Biden said Thursday, was of paramount importance.
“Hurricane Ida didn’t care if you were a Democrat or a Republican, rural or urban. This destruction is everywhere and it’s a matter of life and death, and we’re all in this together,” he said. “This is one of the great challenges of our time, but I’m confident we’ll meet it.”
Shortly before the president spoke, newly minted New York Gov. Kathy Hochul joined New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local leaders at a Thursday press conference to discuss the daunting recovery efforts underway across the New York metropolitan region.
“There are no more cataclysmic, unforeseeable events, we need to foresee these in advance and be prepared,” Hochul said. “Because of climate change, unfortunately this is something we will have to deal with with great regularity.”
New York City and portions of New Jersey received more rain in a matter of hours than normally falls over a two-month span. The torrent of precipitation trapped people in their homes, shut down the New York City subway system, rendered roads impassable and inundated Newark Liberty International Airport.
Every official who spoke at Thursday’s news conference made it a point to stress the need for action on human-caused climate change.
“People are going through hell right now, and they need help,” de Blasio said. “We need to realize the suddenness and totality of storms like this [are not normal]. This is different. … We have to make a change to change the lives of people of the city.”
“Global warming is upon us. … It’s not a coincidence,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “It’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”
Washington lawmakers have so far been slow either to act on climate change or to find agreement on the urgency of the issue. But last month, some progress was made as the Senate approved a sweeping bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that proposes changes targeted at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Democrats also passed a $3.5 trillion budget bill with a broad range of investments, including some focused on climate change that would set goals for transitioning the nation away from burning fossil fuels.
If passed, both bills would invest billions of dollars into clean energy and help bring the U.S. closer to Biden’s pledge to cut emissions at least 50 percent by the end of the decade.
For many Democrats, drastic steps on climate change policy aren’t just a good idea, they’re necessary for long-term human existence.
“Woe is us if we don’t recognize these changes due to climate change … and if we don’t do something about it,” Schumer said.
At least 12 of the reported fatalities took place in New York City, including a 2-year-old boy and an 86-year-old woman found dead in separate apartments in Queens.
In New Jersey, at least 14 people died as a result of the flooding, including five residents at the Oakwood Plaza Apartments complex in Elizabeth, according to NBC News.
Both New York and New Jersey remained in a state of emergency Thursday afternoon as crews throughout the states continued to assess the damage.
Hochul said she spoke to Biden on Thursday morning and that he made a “guarantee” to support any declaration in the area.
Videos shared online showed a glimpse of the devastation across the metropolitan region. Entire blocks of Park Slope, Brooklyn, were submerged in water, subway entrances in the Harlem neighborhood were transformed into waterfalls, and residents across the tristate region battled rising water levels in their homes.
The region has adapted somewhat since Hurricane Sandy devastated the area in October 2012, killing more than 80 people in New York City and New Jersey and resulting in an estimated $50 billion in damages across the region.
Extensive new coastal defense systems were built along the shores of Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn, in addition to millions of tons of sand pumped onto beaches to help prevent another dramatic flood event.
After Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, it left nearly a million people without power. The dangers from the storm, including widespread reports of tornadoes and flash flooding, have persisted for days.
While the U.S. has been hit with multiple extreme rainfall events this summer, flooding has been a global problem this year. Flash floods in Germany, India and China have also served as an illustration of how climate change is already being felt.
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