Climate change spotlight in US after chaos in New York

The role of climate change in the floods in New York and the state of the infrastructure in that city focused attention on Friday in the United States, after torrential rains left at least 47 dead in five states in the northeast of the country.

Thirty-six hours after remnants of Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc in and around the country’s main city, President Joe Biden will visit the southern state of Louisiana, the first to be hit by that storm last weekend, AFP reports.

Biden will likely use the trip to stress the need for the United States to better prepare for extreme weather events, which climate change is making more frequent.

In a speech Thursday, the president said that Hurricane Ida and the uncontrollable wildfires in the west of the country are “another reminder” of global warming.

“It is a matter of life and death and we have to face it together,” he said at the White House.

Ida caused major flooding and damage in the South, hitting one of the epicenters of the American oil industry as well as hitting historic New Orleans.

The states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi were impacted before the storm reached the north, affecting New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even Massachusetts.

“A new challenge”

Hurricanes and tornadoes are a recurring phenomenon in the United States. But warming of the ocean surface is making storms more powerful, especially in coastal cities like New York, scientists warn.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also warned about climate change on Friday.

“This storm must wake us up. This is a new challenge (…) compared to the time when flooding was associated with coastal areas, ”he told MSNBC television on Friday.

The chaos rekindled memories of Hurricane Sandy, which in October 2012 left much of Manhattan without power and completely flooded the subway.

Record rains from Wednesday night to Thursday turned New York City streets into rivers and killed nearly a dozen people living in underground apartments. The metro system was completely paralyzed and was still interrupted this Friday.

“It shouldn’t surprise us!” Said Jonathan Bowles, director of the think tank Center for an Urban Future. “The city seems to collapse with every big storm. Most of the infrastructure dates from the 20th century, ”he explained to AFP.

New York “wasn’t built for seven inches (about 18 centimeters) of rain in a few hours,” said Nicole Gelinas, an urban economics specialist at the Manhattan Institute.

The drains of the city’s sewage system are clogged, he explained, and “there is not enough green space to collect some of the water,” so “some avenues turn into canals when there is a big storm.”

“Terrified”

Among the reported deaths in New York, most drowned in their basements, rudimentary dwellings at the foot of buildings in Manhattan, Queens or Brooklyn.

In the middle of the city, “the water accumulated so quickly that people were trapped in their own basements,” De Blasio said.

In all, according to an ever-changing death toll, at least 47 people have died in and around New York City, half of them in neighboring New Jersey. Almost all perished in their homes, or in or near their cars.

“My husband woke up around four in the morning, just to see the water level and where it was. I was terrified of that, ”Jeannsie Silva Barrios told AFP in front of her totally flooded basement in Mamaroneck, a suburb north of Manahattan and the Bronx.

The White House declared a state of emergency in the states of New York and New Jersey, ordering federal agents to “identify, mobilize and provide the necessary equipment and resources at will.”

Degraded to a post-tropical cyclone, after its devastating passage through New York and its region, Ida darkened the sky Thursday as it passed over New England. A tornado hit Massachusetts’ very touristy Cape Cod peninsula.

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