New York State officials were in the preliminary phases of assessing Ida’s damage on Friday, a day after President Biden approved an emergency declaration that will open up additional federal resources, including $5 million for affected counties.
Even so, state leaders said they would need additional federal assistance to fully recover from Ida’s torrential rains, which inundated the region and killed at least 16 people in New York, where more than 7,000 people were still without electricity.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Friday the state would easily surpass the $30 million threshold required to request a so-called major disaster declaration, which would loosen a wider range of federal aid for individuals and infrastructure projects.
“I don’t ever want again to see Niagara Falls rushing down the stairs of one of the New York City subways,” Ms. Hochul said during a morning briefing in Westchester County. “I can’t prevent it right now, but I know we have to take action to mitigate that.”
Power had been restored to more than 80,000 customers, but more than 6,400 households in Westchester County alone still lacked electricity. About a dozen roads, from the Bronx to Rockland County, were fully or partially closed. And the Metro-North Railroad system had sustained severe damage and “was not in good shape right now,” stressing that repairing it was “not going to happen very quickly.”
Ms. Hochul said officials from the Department of Financial Services would fan out to help homeowners and businesses file insurance claims to receive reimbursements for damages, urging property owners to keep “good records.”
“Homeowners, keep track of everything you have to spend to get your houses cleaned up and restored as best you can and then we’ll take it from there,” she said.
Questions have already emerged over whether city and state officials were adequately prepared for the storm. While the state deployed emergency resources before the storm, for example, Ms. Hochul did not declare a state of emergency until early Thursday, when the brunt of Ida’s rains had already inundated roads and train tracks.
“We did not know that we’d be in the same vulnerable situation with loss of life and property destruction,” she said, referring to the damage from Ida just days earlier in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Ms. Hochul stressed that the staggering amount of rainfall that drenched the state in such a short window of time caught officials and meteorologists off guard on Wednesday night. “I think the meteorologists are surprised,” she said, adding that “Mother Nature does what she wants.”
She said that people were properly warned about the flash floods via text, but that perhaps the warnings should have been translated into more languages or had failed to reach the “vulnerable population” living in basement apartments where many died.
“We have to get a better system for evacuations and deploy people on the ground in these events and not hope that they got a message,” Ms. Hochul said. “I’m not even sure they own a cellphone.”
Even so, she openly questioned whether the state could have done more to alert New Yorkers or to evacuate the subway system before stations began to flood. She promised to convene a task force to tackle such questions and put together an after-action report to determine if there were any “missed opportunities.”
“I want to know exactly what we did right,” Ms. Hochul said. “If there’s any areas that were shortcomings, I want to know what they are and how we address them.”