Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Aftermath of Hurricane Ida responsible for over a dozen deaths along the East Coast, while fires continue to threaten area around Lake Tahoe in California

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2021 AS OF 1:30 PM EDT

The remnants of Hurricane Ida has caused historic flash floods and tornadoes across the Northeast United States (US), with the effects felt particularly in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, according to Reuters. ABC affiliate WABC-TV in New York reported at least 16 fatalities across the Northeast, eight in New York City (NYC) and eight individuals in New Jersey. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a flash flood emergency in NYC for the first time ever on Wednesday evening, cautioning residents to seek higher ground as flooding submerged subway lines, grounded flights, and swept away cars. The NWS also reported Central Park in New York observed 3.15 inches of rain in one hour, from 8:51 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) to 9:51 pm on Wednesday evening – making it the wettest hour in NYC record-keeping dating back to 1870. 

Twitter: NWS

Transit in NYC and New Jersey is currently disrupted or delayed, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) noting over a dozen NYC subway lines are at least partially suspended as of Thursday morning. The New York Times reported all New Jersey Transit rail service lines are suspended (sans the Atlantic City line), while commuter buses will operate with delays. The Long Island Rail Road has resumed service as of Thursday, except for the Port Washington line, while the Metro-North Railroad encouraged people not to travel. At least 370 flights were canceled on Thursday morning at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, and dozens of flights were canceled or delayed at Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York. Poweroutage.US revealed most of the power outages across the Northeast are in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York; with 94,431 outages in Pennsylvania, 59,897 outages in New Jersey, and 32, 284 outages in New York as of Thursday morning.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency in their respective states on Wednesday, encouraging residents to stay inside as crews work to restore services to roadways and commuter lines. In a Thursday morning press conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared alongside Hochul and called Ida “a horrifying storm…unlike anything we have seen before,” adding “this is the biggest wake-up call we could possibly get…What we have to recognize is the suddenness, the brutality of storms now. It is different,” with Hochul noting the draining systems need to be enhanced and infrastructure investments are crucial to the state.

Jonathan Ford: Unsplash

On the West Coast, wildfires continue to rage on, especially across the State of California where the US Forest Service (USFS) has closed all public access to every National Forests within the State of California citing the extraordinary risk of wildfires and forecasts that show the threat will only remain high or even get worse. Earlier this week, the USFS announced that these closures would remain in effect until at least September 17. 

The Caldor Fire continues to threaten communities in California surrounding Lake Tahoe; as of Thursday morning, the fire is only 25 percent contained and has burned over 210,000 acres. Both California Governor Gavin Newsom and Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency to direct resources to evacuated individuals and ensure federal relief funds could be accessed. Monday’s evacuation of 53,000 people (over 22,000 of whom were South Lake Tahoe residents) has been downgraded from Mandatory Evacuation Orders to an Evacuation Warning for those in El Dorado County by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE), as fire crews noted calmer winds and moderate humidity coming back to the area. To date, the fire has destroyed 811 structures, but fire personnel are hopeful they can reach total containment by September 13. Residents are encouraged to stay updated on evacuation orders as the situation evolves and should avoid returning to the area if they have small children, immunocompromised family members, or animals to account for, according to CALFIRE. 

As fires continue to burn the area surrounding Lake Tahoe and other regions of Northern California, IQ Aire reported the air quality index (AQI) remains dangerously high for South Lake Tahoe at an average 573 AQI. As of 8 am Pacific Daily Time (PDT), the Player Court neighborhood reported an astounding 814 AQI due to particulate matter caused by the Caldor Fire. Historically, the AQI has only gone to 500, with that number reflecting the most hazardous conditions for all residents, not just those with preexisting conditions. According to Air Now, individuals in hazardous AQI zones due to ozone and particle pollution should avoid all activities outdoors if possible and should follow tips to keep particle levels low indoors

In response to worsening smoke conditions and increased particulates throughout Northern California, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued an air quality advisory on wildfire smoke for Thursday and Friday, with predictions of hazy skies across the Bay Area. The agency recommends that Bay Area residents – spanning San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont, and San Jose – stay inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels become safe again. 

Air Quality on Thursday, September 2: Air Now Interactive Map 

As the threat of new or worsened wildfires remains and heat waves persist, it is important to follow state and local warnings. Individuals in fire-prone areas should consider signing up for community alerts. FEMA recommends building an emergency supply kit or “GoKit” using this Ready.gov suggested Emergency Supply List ahead of a potential fire. Additionally, with regard to COVID-19, consider including hand sanitizer and face masks in your GoKit. 

California Air Resources Board (CARB): Twitter

Ready.gov: Twitter

As remnants of Ida bring torrential rain and heavy winds to the Northeast US, often with little to no warning, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages individuals experiencing major flooding to take necessary and potentially life-saving safety steps during a flood. The most important step is to seek shelter away from the water, which may necessitate getting to the highest ground possible, or evacuating the area if directed to do so. Individuals should pay close attention to national emergency alerts or local alerting systems for the most up-to-date instructions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) NWS offers additional critical safety measures, including avoiding all areas where water covers electrical outlets or cords (especially basements) and immediately evacuating if seeing or hearing signs of electrical activity. If directed to evacuate, lock your home and disconnect utilities if time permits, while you should turn around immediately if driving during a flood event.

The Hagerty Blog Team will continue providing information and updates on current events and disasters impacting the nation, visit Disaster Discourse for the latest information.

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WILDFIRES 2021