(CNN) After Ida’s remnants swept through the East Coast leaving at least 46 dead, many are mourning as they sift through the damage of a tragic storm the New York City’s mayor urged everyone to see as “the biggest wake-up call we could possibly get.”
“We are in a new world now let’s be blunt,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said, adding that the intensity and frequency of storms are rising and the US is going to have to do a lot of things “differently” and “quickly.”
Late Thursday, the White House said that President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for New York and New Jersey due to the emergency conditions after devastation that left at least 39 people dead in the neighboring states.
Over 20 million people remain under flood warnings, as all the rainwater flows into larger creeks, streams, and rivers. That flooding will likely persist into Friday and some rivers in the Northeast are forecast to remain above flood stage into the weekend.
“Where we are is that we have to start from scratch as we are mourning,” Amrita Bhagwandin, a resident of Queens, New York, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “We have to see how we can move on in the most graceful way here. Because this — if you see the situation here, it’s very unsafe, very unlivable. Death is upon us.”
Bhagwandin’s home sustained serious damage in the flood, but her biggest heartbreak was losing her neighbors, a mother and a son, she said.
Bhagwandin’s husband, Sahadeo, said that their neighborhood has had flooding issues before. And officials may come through during times of disaster, but the residents there need more action.
“We need a lot of help in this neighborhood and over the years we have been neglected. I came here in 2003, and since 2003 to 2021, we’re getting flooding and nothing has been done,” Sahadeo Bhagwandin said. “We have several projects that were completed in this block but it is not resolving the issue we have.”
Ida first made landfall Sunday on the Gulf Coast with the strength of a Category 4 hurricane. And although it had weakened to the remnants of a tropical depression, it still had a powerful punch when it barreled late Wednesday into the densely populated Northeast.
In addition to the 39 deaths in New York and New Jersey, there were four deaths attributed to the storm in Pennsylvania and one each in Maryland, Connecticut and Virginia.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she wants answers.
“I want to know who knew what when and what could have been done differently — because New Yorkers deserve to know what we’re doing to learn from this event and make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Hochul told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
But part of making sure it doesn’t happen again is fighting back against climate change, Hochul said. She advocated for a continued transition in the state to carbon neutral energy.
“We have no choice my friends, the future we spoke about in dire terms, that future is now. It’s happening, we’re losing life, lives we’re losing property and we cannot continue on this path.”
25 homes destroyed or damaged by tornadoes in New Jersey
At least eight tornadoes were confirmed in the Northeast Wednesday: four in Pennsylvania, three in New Jersey and one in southeast Massachusetts, according to storm surveys conducted by the National Weather Service.
In New Jersey, the tornado in Mullica Hill has been rated an EF-3 with 150 mph winds, according to the damage survey conducted by the National Weather Service.
The tornado destroyed or severely damaged 25 homes, police Lt. David Marrow said.
Hundreds of trees were downed, and power was knocked out for a third of the South Jersey township, Marrow said.
“This is going to take some time to dig out of, there’s no question about it,” Gov. Phil Murphy said, standing in front of one of the wrecked homes.
As terrifying as the tornadoes were, none of the state’s 23 storm deaths were related to them, Murphy said, adding that he believes residents took the flood warnings less seriously than the tornado warnings.
“The tornado warnings came out just as the flood warnings came out,” Murphy said. “Everybody, when they got the tornado warning, went into their basement and I think there were too many people who thought that they could deal with flooding and sadly, some of them either in their homes or in their cars, lost their lives.”
People standing to ensure they did not drown in the bus
The danger of floodwaters was readily apparent in New York City, where the police department made 69 water rescues and 166 non-water rescues, the Chief of Department Rodney Harrison said.
More than 800 subway riders were evacuated, New York Police Department Chief Rodney Harrison said Thursday. And another 500 New Yorkers were rescued from flooded roadways, buildings and subway stations, the New York City Emergency Management Department said.
In the chaos, New York bus driver Rosa Amonte became an overnight viral sensation after she drove passengers to safety, even as 3 to 4 feet of water filled the bus.
“People literally standing on their seat to make sure they did not drown inside a bus,” Hochul said. “She stood there, she drove, through the night and did what it took to get people there safely.”
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia, Laura Ly, Mirna Alsharif, Liam Reily, Taylor Ward, Rob Frehse and Raja Razek contributed to this report.