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NYC Mayor Says Ida Devastation Shows How Unprepared the US is For Climate Change

Despite a National Hurricane Center warning of the potential for “significant and life-threatening flash flooding”, the strength of Hurricane Ida on Wednesday night took many by surprise. Dozens died across the area. In New York City, numerous people drowned in basement apartments. Of 13 people known to have died in the city, 11 were living in such apartments, including a two-year-old boy who died with his parents.

As the northeastern US began cleaning up from the catastrophic damage caused by the remnants of Ida, politicians and city officials warned that the climate crisis will bring more such events. According to the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, people should prepare for the “very, very worst”.

The majority of deaths in the city’s five boroughs occurred in Queens, an enclave for immigrant communities. For decades, affordable housing advocates have campaigned to improve the safety of basement apartments, which are often illegal but can be vital for low-income New Yorkers seeking affordable housing. On Friday, De Blasio announced a set of initiatives to prepare for extreme weather events, including more aggressive travel bans to get residents off streets ahead of a storm and evacuations to assist people living in vulnerable spaces such as basement apartments. The 30-day Extreme Weather Response Task Force will examine how the city can improve preparedness and responses.

“We are now going to be speaking to people living in the basement apartments – specific messages, specific cellphone alerts – telling people about the vulnerabilities they face in this kind of rain events,” De Blasio said. He also discussed the potential for a database of basement apartments and using door-to-door evacuations.

Other politicians were also explicit in saying the climate crisis lay behind the storm, and warned that the region needs to prepare, as Ida did seem to catch many New York officials off guard. “We did not know that between 8.50pm and 9.50pm last night, that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls-level water to the streets of New York,” said the state’s Governor Kathy Hochul, who recently replaced the disgraced Andrew Cuomo.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy stressed his state had “a lot more work to do” in coping with natural disasters despite the steps already taken, including $1.5bn invested in water infrastructure over three years and $22m earmarked for floor-resilience projects.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said that when Congress goes back into session, he plans to push the Build Back Better plan, an infrastructure bill that aims to modernize infrastructure across the country. “We need to be much better prepared,” the President said. “We need to act.”



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