New York City reels after flash flooding chaos and powerful downpours

As flash flooding swept over parts of the New York City region on Friday, residents reeled from powerful downpours and surging waters. On Saturday, some localities in Connecticut and Long Island braced for still more rain.

While no fatalities have been reported, scenes of chaos emerged as residents waded through knee-deep water in search for higher ground and drivers abandoned their vehicles on overwhelmed highways. In one north Brooklyn, New York City, building, residents said raw sewage seeped into their apartments amid the torrent.

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New York City firefighters rescued at least 15 people from cars immobilized by the swelling waters. First responders also rescued at least six people from flooded basement apartments, NBC News reported.

The torrents snarled travel in this nation’s largest transportation system, with rains flooding some New York City subway stations and overwhelming several regional train tracks. JFK airport was awash with more than 8in of rain – marking the wettest day on record there since 1948 – and La Guardia airport was similarly swamped with almost 5in, spurring flight cancellations, per reports.

So inundated was the Central Park Zoo, a sea lion temporarily escaped from her over-filled enclosure.

The sweeping storm has amplified already intensifying calls for New York City to prepare for the climate crisis. What were once rare weather events have become far more typical in recent years, underscoring that New York City remains woefully unprepared for rising sea levels.

Friday marked the “wettest day” in New York City since Hurricane Ida some two years ago; at least 14 were killed as the storm bore down. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, causing 44 deaths and $19bn in damage – displacing thousands of residents and damaging more than 69,000 homes, officials 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,” Rohit Aggarwala, commissioner of the New York City department of environmental protection, told the New York Times. The extreme weather came a mere three months after fatal flooding overwhelmed New York state’s Hudson Valley region.

This week’s storm prompted intense criticism of the New York City mayor, Eric Adams, with some claiming that he was slow to communicate about the threat.

“If anyone was caught off guard,” they must have been “under a rock”, Adams reportedly said.

The New York City news website Hell Gate provided the most pointed timeline of Adam’s response: “Ten hours after the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning, five hours after the heavy rain began to fall across New York City, three hours after social media platforms began to be deluged with photos and videos of floodwaters stranding vehicles and commuters, 90 minutes after the MTA essentially told riders the trains were all too broken to be of any use, and 40 minutes after the press conference was supposed to start, Mayor Eric Adams spoke to New Yorkers for the first time about the flooding that continues to pummel the city that is under his control,” the writer Christopher Robbins noted.

In defending this lack of communication, Adams said his deputies had already provided advisories on the flood. “Leadership is not only the mayor,” he reportedly said. “It is all of those that are placed in those positions, and that is what you saw.”

The night prior, Adams threw a campaign fundraiser.