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Today is Thursday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

New York City subway lines were still facing major delays and closures on Thursday after cascades of floodwater gushed over trains as they pulled into stations late Wednesday.

“It turned into Niagara Falls,” a train conductor told the New York Daily News. “People were taking photos when they got off the train. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The deluges were so dangerous that the city shut down all train service Wednesday evening. As of Thursday afternoon, at least 20 people had died and 150,000 households were left without power in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Today we focus more on Hurricane Ida and the deadly rains sweeping the Northeast, leaving unnavigable roadways and flooded train terminals a day after the storm surge. Then we’ll turn to the aftermath of the storm in the South, where locals are struggling to keep cool amid widespread blackouts.

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin

Let’s get to it.

Ida immobilizes New York City, Philadelphia 

Dawn brought sunny skies to New York City on Thursday — a deceptively bright greeting after deadly floods drenched the Northeast starting Wednesday evening and throughout the night.

In Central Park, 3.15 inches of rain were recorded in a single hour Wednesday night, breaking a record set the previous week of 1.94 inches of rain during Tropical Storm Henri, The New York Times reported. For the first time, the National Weather Service placed the city under a flash flood emergency.

The storm, according to the Times, transformed the city “into otherworldly and waterlogged chaos” — a scene of “orange traffic cones floating like buoys” and “city buses turned into amphibious vehicles.”

Multiple states of emergency: New York and New Jersey both declared states of emergency.

New York Gov. Kathy HochulKathy HochulHochul names former NYC mayoral candidate Garcia to key post It’s time to end #MeToo Whac-a-mole — and sexual harassment — for good Power surge disrupts NYC subway system for hours MORE (D) told CNN that the amount of rain was “far more than anyone really expected,” and had left the region in “a very dire situation.”

“We can take all the precautions in advance, and we did deploy our assets to be on the ground in anticipation, but Mother Nature will do whatever she wants, and she is really angry tonight,” she added.

On Staten Island, floodwaters totaled cars and damaged homes, while abandoned vehicles made it difficult for drivers to navigate the roads on Thursday, the Staten Island Advance reported. Most of the West Shore Expressway southbound was closed due to flooding and blocked all the way to the Outerbridge Crossing. 

In New Jersey, a devastating tornado ripped through the town of Mullica Hill on Wednesday evening, destroying nine homes and sending debris flying for miles, NBC10 reported.

“I told my wife and kids to get in the basement,” one resident told NBC, explaining that he saw his neighbor’s home being torn apart. “And I looked out the window and I [saw] their house going.” 

Philadelphia also suffered from Ida’s wrath, leading city officials to issue a shelter-in-place order to flood-prone areas along the Schuylkill River on Thursday, according to 6ABC. The city’s iconic Boathouse Row was submerged entirely and portions of the Vine Street Expressway were heavily flooded as the river overflowed, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

 

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PORTENT OF THE FUTURE

Where is Ida now? As the storm drifted away from the New York metropolitan area on Thursday morning, the Weather Channel cautioned that Ida’s remnants could “linger” along the Northeast coast but should depart from the East Coast by later in the day on Thursday and make way for a drier weather pattern.

Can cities withstand more extreme storms? That’s a big unknown. New York’s aging transit system, for example, has recently demonstrated repeated vulnerabilities in the face of such challenges. Just 10 days ago, floodwaters submerged city streets and suspended several subway lines when Tropical Storm Henri stopped by the Tri-State area — an ominous prelude to Ida’s arrival.

The massive flooding may in part be attributable to the city’s “combined sewer system.” That means that when even a moderate amount of rain falls, “untreated wastewater is released from hundreds of outfalls into the city’s waterways across all five boroughs,” environmental science and policy researcher Steven Koller tweeted.

Either way, more big storms are coming: Climate change is making hurricanes more powerful and more dangerous, generating larger storm surges near the coast as the storms prepare to make landfall, according to CNN. 

“What is so surprising is the time span of the rainfall and the area impacted,” said CNN Weather’s Michael Guy about Ida. 

“It is such a large area across the Northeast, and it only happened within a span of a few hours,” he continued. “That’s nothing that we have seen, especially in this region of the country.”

After the storm, the rebuilding 

A million people are sweltering without power in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, as state, federal and local authorities struggle to get the lights back on. 

Ida highlights an important point about both disaster preparedness and recovery: Infrastructural failure can lead to a humanitarian crisis all its own. 

First steps: The National Weather Service placed New Orleans, Baton Rouge and many other communities hammered by Ida under a heat advisory, predicting temperatures of up to 107 degrees. 

“The great challenge is living a life in a sweltering place without air conditioning,” New Orleans resident Karen Evans told The Associated Press.

How bad was the damage? Really bad. Hurricane winds ripped down the lines connecting power plants to substations and substations to houses — creating its own hazards. St. John the Baptist Parish, west of New Orleans, had become a “maze” of downed power lines, Councilwoman Tammy Houston told CNN. 

In addition to the downed lines, Ida damaged 5,000 poles and thousands of other pieces of power infrastructure — including the eight principal transmission lines that pipe power into New Orleans, according to Nola.com. 

Power restoration is therefore “a delicate balancing act,” meaning that a hasty restoration could knock the whole system back down, CEO Philip May of Louisiana utility Entergy told Nola.com.

In addition to an absence of air conditioning, a lack of power means no sewers or water treatment: 600,000 are without water, according to Reuters.

Limited relief — for the Quarter: On Wednesday evening, lights began to flicker back on in the French Quarter of New Orleans and parts of the larger central business district, Nola.com reported.

But most of the city remained dark — and hot. Heat-exhausted people had driven calls to New Orleans 911 up 185 percent (nearly double the average), Emergency Medical Services director Emily Nichols told CNN.

COOLING VANS, AND LOW FUEL

How do people stay cool without power? With generators, for those who have them — although the operation of these units increased the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, Nichols said. Such exposure killed one man in St. John the Baptist Parish, CNN reported. 

The city has opened seven centers — such as gyms — where people can eat and cool down, and officials will dispatch 70 buses throughout the city as mobile cooling sites, Mayor LaToya…

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