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Biden declares disasters in New York and New Jersey after dozens killed in Storm Ida

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President Joe Biden has declared major disasters in New York and New Jersey and is ordering federal aid to both states to help in the recovery of Storm Ida.

The remnants of the powerful hurricane ploughed into the northeast last week bringing historic levels of rainfall and tornadoes. The storm killed at least 27 people in New Jersey and 13 in New York City.

At least 50 people were killed across six eastern states as some areas received a month’s worth of rain in a matter of hours.

The deluge overwhelmed rivers and decades-old sewer systems. Most of those who died were trapped in basement apartments and vehicles, becoming swept away as they tried to escape.

A huge clean-up is underway as abandoned vehicles were towed and water pumped from submerged highways and public transit systems. Residents hauled the ruined contents of their homes onto streets and business owners got to work clearing muck and debris.

President Biden will travel to the area on Tuesday, visiting both Manville, New Jersey and Queens, New York to survey storm damage.

The federal assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, the White House said in a statement, along with low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programmes to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

During a trip to Lambertville to look at storm damage on Labor Day, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy released a statement saying he was “grateful” for the federal aid.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul echoed the sentiment and said that she looked forward to welcoming President Biden to New York City.

Governor Hochul stated that Ida damaged more than 1,200 homes and caused about $50m in damage to public infrastructure and property, following an initial assessment. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said damage to city infrastructure was estimated at $35m.

The White House disaster declarations cover Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset counties in New Jersey and allow for individual assistance for people in Bronx, Queens, Kings, Richmond and Westchester counties in New York.

The Category-4 hurricane made landfall last Sunday close to New Orleans, Louisiana with winds of up to 150mph and several feet of storm surge.

Governors from affected states underlined the role that the climate crisis has played in exacerbating the extreme event.

“What I’ve seen in my last seven years are these localised storms, storms that actually in some cases occur outside of flood plains and that cause a lot of damage,” Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf told CNN on Friday.

“You know, it’s climate change.”

The climate crisis is creating conditions which are driving more powerful storms like Ida.

While it’s unclear whether the climate crisis will mean a greater number of hurricanes in the future, scientists have long warned that increased global heating will likely make the storms that we do experience more destructive.

The ocean absorbs over 90 per cent of excess heat caused by greenhouse gas emissions – largely caused from the burning of fossil fuels – and that warm water feeds into hurricanes.

And as the planet heats up, more moisture is held in the atmosphere, meaning storms hold the potential for a lot more rainfall.

Global sea level rise is compounding the danger of storm surge. The sea level off New York’s coast is up to nine inches higher than it was in 1950.

Following Superstorm Sandy nearly a decade ago, New Jersey and New York spent billions of dollars improving flood defences. However, much has focused on protecting communities from coastal surge – not rainfall.

On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new initiatives to protect New York City from extreme weather, collectively titled the “NYC Climate-Driven Rain Response”.

“We have to change what we do across the board,” the mayor said. “We need to change our entire mindset, because we’re being dealt a very different hand of cards now.”

Mr De Blasio said the new system will focus on travel bans, “more severe” storm warnings, and evacuations – particularly for people in basement apartments.

Ida is the fifth strongest hurricane to make landfall on the US mainland and the deadliest in the US in four years.

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