By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hurricane Ida’s death toll continued to rise on Sunday, with many in the U.S. Northeast holding out hope for people missing in the floodwaters, while nearly 600,000 customers in Louisiana still lacked power a week after the storm made landfall.
Ida slammed into Louisiana on Aug. 29 as a powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (240 kph). The latest death toll there rose to at least 13 people on Sunday.
The storm weakened as it moved north but still unleashed flash flooding on the East Coast that killed at least 50 more people, according to updated numbers on Sunday.
Ida’s record-breaking rainfall of 3.1 inches (7.8 cm) per hour on Wednesday, recorded in New York City’s Central Park, sent walls of water cascading through businesses, public transportation systems and 1,200 homes, causing more than $50 million in damage, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said.
“The human toll was tremendous,” said Hochul, recounting a trip to East Elmhurst in the New York City borough of Queens to assess the devastation.
“One woman wept in my arms, an 89-year-old woman. She had nothing left after living in that home for over 40 years,” Hochul said.
The governor previously secured an emergency disaster declaration from President Joe Biden and signed paperwork on Sunday to request related federal money to cover the costs of temporary housing as well as rebuilding homes, possibly in less flood-prone locations.
New York had 17 confirmed deaths, four in suburban Westchester County and the rest in New York City, where nearly all the victims were trapped in illegal basement apartments that are among the last remaining affordable options for low-income residents in the area, the governor’s spokesperson said.
In New Jersey, there were 27 confirmed storm deaths and four people still missing, said a spokesperson for Governor Phil Murphy.
Among the missing were two college students last seen in Passaic, New Jersey, on Wednesday as Ida’s historic deluge was reported to have swept them away in the raging Passaic River.
Twelve boats searched the river on Sunday as part of round-the-clock operations, and rescue teams were anticipating specialized high-resolution sonar to aid their search on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Passaic fire department said.
A Mass was celebrated on Sunday at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, for Nidhi Rana, a first-year commuter student from Passaic who was last seen with her friend Ayush Rana, a Montclair State University student, as the water rushed around his car.
“Join me in keeping Nidhi and Ayush in your prayers for their safe return,” Seton Hall President Joseph Nyre said in a letter to students.
Other storm deaths were reported in Connecticut with at least one dead, Pennsylvania with at least four dead and Maryland with at least one dead.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards increased the number of storm deaths in his Gulf Coast state to 13.
At least four of those people died in Louisiana of carbon monoxide poisoning from power generators, officials said.
Amid stifling heat and humidity, more than 591,000 homes and businesses in the state lacked electricity as of Sunday, according to PowerOutage.com. Some 1.2 million had originally lost power.
Ida also paralyzed U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil production, and 88% of crude oil output and 83% of natural gas production remained suspended as of Sunday.
The Grand Classica, a cruise ship that will house 1,500 workers trying to restore power, departed from the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday and is due to arrive in New Orleans on Tuesday under a charter agreement with Entergy Corp, the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line said.
A massive oil slick has emerged near the oil hub of Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with satellite images showing a miles-long brownish-black slick spreading in the coastal waters. A private dive team was attempting to locate the source.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, Calif.; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney)