Americans count their losses as Hurricane Ida hits hard


US President Joe Biden addresses Americans on Hurricane Ida

By Nehru Odeh

Though the casualties are still counting, while survivors are counting their losses, at least 43 people have died as a result of the rampaging onslaught of Hurricane Ida, a ferocious tropical storm that has swept across Eastern United States.

The cities hardest hit by this hurricane, whose devastating power is second only to Hurricane Katrina include New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Orleans.

Aside from the casualties, Hurricane Ida has left than 150,000 homes without power and hundreds of Americans homeless as a result of torrential rains and wild flooding. States of emergency remained in effect across the region by midday Thursday, as officials sought to get a handle on the damage.

However, President Joe Biden speaking from the White House, said the damage indicated that “extreme storms and the climate crisis are here,” constituting what he called “one of the great challenges of our time.”  According to him, the wild fires and flooding ravaging some parts of the United States show climate change has struck.

Still, national and local leaders in the United States also acknowledged on Thursday that extreme weather events such as Hurricane Ida posed an urgent and ongoing threat.

Biden, addressing the damage caused by the Hurricane, called on Americans to rally together and offer support to those hard hit, saying that it isn’t about politics.

“We’re reminded that this isn’t about politics. Hurricane Ida didn’t care if you were a Democrat or a Republican, rural or urban, its destruction is everywhere, and it’s a matter of life and death. And we’re all in this together.

“My message to the people of the Gulf Coast, who I’m going to visit tomorrow: We are here for you. And we’re making sure the response and recovery is equitable, so that those hit hardest get the resources they need and are not left behind.

The damage caused by Hurricane Ida is not just devastating but also nightmarish and traumatic. People watched as streets and subways platforms turned into rivers, houses and palm trees were swallowed by floods, while neighbours cried for help but couldn’t get any as others themselves also needed help and were struggling to survive the onslaught.

The case of Deborah Torres in Woodside, Queens tells the story. Torres said she heard the desperate pleas from the basement of three members of a family, including a toddler. As the water rushed into the building around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Torres said she heard the family frantically call out to another neighbour, Choi Sledge.

Sledge pleaded with the family to flee. Within moments, however, the cascade of water was too powerful, and it also kept anyone from trying to get downstairs to help. “It was impossible,” said Torres, who lives on the first floor. “It was like a pool.” The family did not survive.

There is also the case of Roberto Bravo, who lived in the Cypress Hill building basement. Roxanna Florentino, who has lived in the building for 18 years, said she heard another man, 66-year-old Roberto Bravo, crying out for help from a back bedroom in the basement apartment.

 Bravo was pleading for help in Spanish, and neighbours were trying to reach him. But water was pouring through both the front door and a window. She realized Bravo’s screaming had stopped.

On Thursday, it was clear that the water had risen so forcefully where Bravo had been that it tore off the door and broke through the ceiling, leaving dank decay. The Ecuadorean flag hanging on his wall was soaked and muddied, the floor below strewn with debris, along with a water-stained. Firefighters arrived an hour later. They brought out Bravo’s body.

Florentino tried to sleep but each time she drifted off, she heard Bravo’s voice, calling a last.time.  “It’s so hard when someone asks for help and you can’t help them,” she said.

The storm has also caused seven indirect deaths, including a Louisiana man mauled to death by an alligator after walking through Ida’s floodwaters. Two electrical workers died while repairing power grid damage caused by the storm. Four people have died in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning while using generators with inadequate ventilation

Ida originated from a tropical wave in the Caribbean Sea on 23 August.  It later swept through Cuba, intensifying into a hurricane on 27 August while moving over western Cuba. A day later, the hurricane underwent rapid intensification due to very warm sea surface temperatures and light wind shear in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ida reached its peak intensity while approaching the northern Gulf coast, with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (240 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 929 mbar (27.4 inHg). On 29 August, the hurricane made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Ida weakened steadily over land, becoming a tropical depression on August 30 as it turned to the north and northeast. On September 1, the former hurricane transitioned into a post-tropical cyclone as it accelerated through the northeastern United States, before moving out into the Atlantic on the next day.

Late Thursday, Biden approved an emergency declaration for New York and New Jersey, allowing for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.