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LI dries out from Ida's historic rainfall as Biden pledges aid for the hard hit Northeast

Nassau Police work on trying to clear abandoned

Nassau Police work on trying to clear abandoned cars and flooding on Hillside Ave. on Thursday Sept. 2, 2021 in Herricks. Credit: Howard Schnapp

This story was reported by John Asbury, Rachelle Blidner, Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Alfonso A. Castillo, Anthony M. DeStefano, Scott Eidler, Laura Figueroa Hernandez, Joan Gralla, Ted Phillips, Carl MacGowan, Deborah S. Morris, Nicholas Spangler and Dandan Zou. It was written by Chayes and Gralla.

The region was recovering Thursday from a rainfall of historic proportions that swamped roadways, disrupted travel and forced residents to abandon their vehicles and homes as floodwaters rose.

Local officials acknowledged they were surprised by the ferocity of the remnants of Ida, which killed 13 people in New York City. The storm had weakened since cutting a swath through the Southeast as a hurricane but had enough punch to dump up to 9 inches of rain in some places on Long Island.

The result was massive flooding on ground already saturated by two prior tropical storms in recent weeks.

President Joe Biden pledged to help the recovery and spoke to Gov. Kathy Hochul and the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania Thursday morning.

"I made clear to the governors that my team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency — FEMA — is on the ground, and ready to provide all the assistance that's needed," Biden said.

Hochul called the storm and flash flooding "unprecedented" as she toured the damage at the Long Island Rail Road's Great Neck station Thursday afternoon. She had declared a state of emergency for Long Island and New York City earlier.

The station Wednesday night was transformed into "Niagara Falls" as storm waters flowed onto the tracks below, she said.

"What we saw last night was nothing short of unprecedented’" Hochul said. "I cannot imagine a community going through this before. We are told it’s a 500-year event … that’s the scale we are talking about."

The new governor, in her second week on the job, promised to investigate whether there was enough warning about the storm's potential for damage.

"Was there a breakdown in communication with the weather systems?" she asked. "Were we prepared enough? I am going to intensely ask those questions, get the answers and when I get them share them with the public."

In New York City, of the 13 people died from the storm, 11 were in Queens and two in Brookyn, the NYPD said. Some 25 families had to be relocated, the NYPD said.

"Families are in mourning right now," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "People are going through hell right now. They need help."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said: "This really was a devastating storm in many ways that people were not prepared for, did not expect. We're still assessing the property damage."

"The amount of rainfall produced in this storm was a number that we have not seen before in the region," he said, outside the Huntington Fire Department, adding that it was urgent to make an "investment in infrastructure" to make communities more resilient to the effects of strong storms.

The National Weather Service, which had warned about Ida for days, sent out multiple alerts overnight, warning of "life-threatening" flash flooding, severe thunderstorms and even tornadoes. New York City issued its first flash flood emergency.

"Dozens upon dozens" of people were rescued on Nassau County's North Shore, which saw "historic flooding," said Michael Uttaro, the county's chief fire marshal.

There were rescues on the Northern State Parkway, Northern Boulevard, Lakeville Road, Community Drive and throughout Port Washington, he said.

Port Washington firefighters rescued the occupants of nearly half a dozen vehicles on Shore Road and three families in Sands Point between 11:30 p.m. Wednesday and 12:30 a.m. Thursday, said department Chief Brian Waterson.

"A lot of basements were flooded," Waterson said. "Streets were flooded. Cars were trapped in water. Occupants had to be saved … They were nervous, frantic. But they weren’t injured."

State police said from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday, they dealt with 13 disabled vehicles, 12 crashes, two trees down and three areas of heavy flooding leading to three full road closures on the Northern State Parkway.

Bellone said Suffolk emergency crews also had to evacuate 12 residents from an apartment building, moving them to the Huntington fire station and later to a hotel.

There were uprooted trees, and flooded basements were being pumped out at several parks, said George Gorman, the Long Island regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve in Lloyd Harbor appeared to be hit the hardest, with two trees toppled onto historic buildings, he said.

Long Island Rail Road president Phillip Eng said the agency, which shut down service at 12:30 a.m., was able to begin restoring service around 4 a.m.

"It’s not a light decision to shut down service, but with visibility near zero and seeing the devastation that Ida was causing elsewhere, it was the right call," Eng said.

PSEG Long Island said in a statement Thursday morning that it had turned the lights back on for 24,000 of its 1.1 million customers. About 1,300 customers were without power Thursday at about 7 p.m.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the North Shore saw a record 3 inches of rain in one hour Wednesday, even as she reassured residents the county would get back on its feet.

"Yes, we had flooding. Yes, we had abandoned cars. We had to rescue people from the sides of the road submerged in cars. And we are dealing with flooded basements and damage to property. But by and large, we are going to be fine," she said.

Hochul said the region is better prepared for coastal flooding, but local infrastructure needs significant improvement on the street level to address flash flooding, including better sewage drainage.

"It’s not waves off the ocean," Hochul said of the effect of recent storms. "It’s flash floods."

The weather service reported that Glen Cove led the way in rainfall amounts with 9 inches. Old Field received 7.2 inches, which was tops in Suffolk.

"The deluge really hit the North Shore," Curran said. "The peninsulas got walloped last night."

Residents of the North Shore community of Lloyd Neck saw trees felled on top of homes and severe damage many speculated could only come from a tornado.

The weather service had warned of a possible tornado in the area close to midnight Wednesday. While still analyzing conditions, local meteorologists believe the destruction was caused by "straight-line winds" — or loud, fast winds that accompany thunderstorms but don't have the rotation of a tornado.

Officials from North Shore communities across Long Island reported significant flooding on roadways and in buildings that required pumping out.

Floodwaters raced through parts of Stony Brook University's Mendelsohn dormitory complex and the campus' student union building, according to a post on the university’s website.

Students who live in Mendelsohn, a mostly freshman dorm, were relocated and given "flexibility" on class attendance while university officials assess the damage, the post said.

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the town’s drainage system was designed to handle 2 inches of rain an hour — not the 3 inches or more that came down last night.

"There were reports of people having to go to the roof of their car to be safe," Bosworth said Thursday. "Cars were, I think, actually floating. So it was deep... Here in the town, the North Shore communities really got hit."

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