Date: 2021-09-14 22:16:53
City Council members had few criticisms of the de Blasio administration’s botched response to Hurricane Ida on Tuesday, allowing the city’s claims that the devastating rain “was not forecast” to go unchecked at an oversight hearing despite the National Weather Service’s advance warning of heavy and dangerous flash floods.
The NWS warned that “flash flood emergency level rainfall” was “possible” in the New York City region at 3:22 p.m. on Aug. 31 — the day of the storm — and tweeted out an official flash flood warning for the city at 6:51 p.m.
Yet Environmental Protection Commissioner Vincent Sapienza insisted at Tuesday’s hearing that the NWS only declared a flash flood “emergency” at 9:30 p.m., when many city neighborhoods were already inundated. Emergency Management Commissioner John Scrivani similarly highlighted the storm’s sudden intensification as it passed over the region.
“The original forecast was for a very heavy rain event over multiple hours,” Scrivani said.
Ida left 13 people dead across the city, including 11 who died trapped in basement residences in Queens. The flooding also forced the MTA to halt subway service and evacuated around 1,000 riders from trains trapped in tunnels, MTA officials testified.
Council members, however, expressed little outrage over the city’s response — and did not push back on the city’s claims the storm’s impacts were totally unforeseen.
Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) opened the hearing by warning officials “resist deflecting blame for the response to Hurricane Ida by talking about the unprecedented nature of the storm” — then immediately parroted the point himself.
“Yes it was an unprecedented… storm, but also, we were not prepared,” Rodriguez said.
Most of the hearing focused on ways the city can shore up its sewers and other infrastructure to process more rainwater.
The only harsh words for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s team came from Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), who chastised officials for expressing financial concerns about the council’s infrastructure suggestions.
“I really feel like we should have had this meeting four years ago,” Reynoso said. “Why is it that the city of New York isn’t pouring money into what is arguably the most important issue of our time, which is climate change?”
Stony Brook University atmospheric scientist Kevin Reed praised the council and city’s future-focused approach as “a good thing,” but even he cautioned against claims the storm’s impact could not have been anticipated.
Reed said the historic hour of rainfall from Hurricane Henri on Aug. 21 — which Ida later usurped — should have clued city leaders to the potential for life-threatening flooding.
“Just 10 days earlier they set a record for the most amount of rainfall in an hour,” Reed said. “The fact that it just happened suggests that they had to know it was possible. the fact that it just happened suggests that they had to know it was possible. The forecast was calling for this level of flooding. This was a very well-predicted event.”