Dangerous flood waters rise in NY, NJ after Henri dumps heavy rains

Weather

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) — The end appeared to be in sight Sunday evening as Henri weakened, though the storm walloped Long Island, New York City, New Jersey and much of the Northeast coastline with bands of heavy rain Sunday afternoon, sparking concerns about flooding.

The storm weakened into tropical depression Sunday night, as it crawled over the Northeast and continued to unleash downpours over a region already saturated by heavy rain and wind that knocked out power to over 100,000 homes and swamped roads, closed bridges and left people stranded in their vehicles.

Henri made landfall Sunday on the coast of Rhode Island, and the National Hurricane Center warned that the slow-moving storm would continue dumping heavy rains on wide swaths of the region.

The storm was downgraded from a hurricane before reaching New England, leaving many to breathe a sigh of relief. There were few early reports of major damage due to wind or surf.

But the storm’s heavy, sustained rains raised concerns about flooding from the storm that threatened to stall over the region before pivoting to the East and moving out to the Atlantic Ocean on Monday night. Some of the highest rain totals were expected inland.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced President Joe Biden approved the state’s request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration, freeing up federal resources for storm response efforts.

Biden declared disasters in other states, too, opening the purse strings for federal recovery aid. The White House said Biden discussed preparations with northeastern governors and that New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeds Cuomo on Tuesday, also participated.

Former NYC Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell now leads federal emergency response efforts.

“We’ve been working with state, local, tribal and federal partners to ready for this storm,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “We are ensuring all necessary supplies are ready to go, with personnel on the ground to respond as soon as needed.” 

The National Weather Service recorded what could be the wettest hour ever in Central Park, with 1.94 inches of torrential rainfall pelting the park between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday. Earlier in the evening, thousands attending a Homecoming concert at the park were forced to disperse because of heavy rainfall.

Some communities in central New Jersey were inundated with as much as 8 inches of rain by midday Sunday.

In Newark, Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara said police and firefighters rescued 86 people in 11 incidents related to the storm. He said “significant flooding” led to multiple vehicles submerged in flooded areas.

“This could have been a lot worse, particularly as it relates to wind,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Sunday evening.

Likewise, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Henri was close to being in the “rear view mirror,” but said there’s still more work to do, even as mandatory evacuations were being lifted in some communities. Earlier in the day, about 250 residents from four nursing homes on the shoreline were relocated to other nursing homes.

Millions of people in the tri-state area has braced for the possibility of coastal storm surges, street flooding and power outages.

Cuomo warned that the storm’s biggest threat likely wouldn’t come from wind but from storm surge and inland flooding, caused by heavy and sustained rain. Some of the highest rain totals were expected inland.

“The affected area is actually quite large … A slow storm is a problematic storm,” the governor said.

The forecast had some fearing the worst effects of the rainfall were still to come in a region where the ground in many areas is saturated from recent rains.

Henri hits Long Island, NYC

In Riverhead Sunday morning, the wind picked up substantially and the rain came in waves, with heavy downpours in between periods of light showers.

Officials kept an eye on the water because of the storm surge threat. Water rescue crews were briefed Sunday morning.

Street flooding was also an issue in Brooklyn Saturday night. Areas of the borough saw more than 6 inches of rain over a span of a few hours. Record-breaking daily rainfall was also recorded in Central Park.

Out in the Rockaways, surfers took the risk Sunday morning and headed into the water to catch big waves driven in by the storm.

Meanwhile in the Hamptons, Troy Buckner wouldn’t let the storm interrupt his near-daily routine of getting coffee with his dad at the Golden Pear, one of the few spots open on Main Street Sunday morning.

“Today we thought we’d still try to keep a little bit of normalcy, but we’re heading back home for the remainder,” Buckner said as the rain pelted down. “We plan for the worst. You just never know. We always anticipate Southampton could be the center, the bull’s eye.”

A lack of major roadways on the eastern end of Long Island makes mass evacuations untenable, East Hampton Mayor Jerry Larsen said.

“We have one lane of travel leaving the Hamptons so it’s a little difficult to order evacuations,” Larsen said. “So most people will shelter-in-place and, God willing, everyone will come through this OK.”

Cuomo said crews were reinforcing dunes on south shore beaches using bulldozers to move sand.

Near Brookville Park, Rosedale resident Sean Chai tried to repair an unstable manhole opening leading to the sewage system next to the park.

Residents said the manhole, allegedly caused by too much rain, has been a problem for two years.

“When the sewer backs up it flies up. Someone’s going to get their car damaged if they’re not careful,” Chai said.

Inside the park, Rod Barrett waited out the rain before he headed to an overflowing pond to go fishing.

“We’re going to play around try to catch some crabs something to do,” Barrett said.

Before the super soaker, folks in Lindenhurst, Long Island moved their vehicles away from the water and braced for the brunt of the storm, something all too common along the South Shore.

“Even when it rains normally it floods like this, water comes up the driveway when we get a high tide it comes to the front and the whole property is flooding,” said Vito Scirica, of Lindenhurst.

The South Shore is prone to flooding year round.

Sunday’s storm brought a mix of rain, the surge from the north, and the high tide. By early evening, the skies cleared up and the sun even tried to peak through, welcoming break before a new week begins.

“With all the stuff going on right now we don’t need anything else anymore issues,” Barrett said.

Henri poses threat to Hudson Valley

Officials were watching the storm surge on Long Island, but were also very concerned about flooding in the Hudson Valley, Cuomo said.

“Rainfall in the Catskills is a significant problem … think [Hurricanes] Irene and Lee,” he said, calling the projected rainfall totals for the Hudson Valley “highly problematic.”

All it takes, Cuomo said, is for a couple of inches of rainfall in a short amount of time to turn a creek into a raging river that can destroy homes.

Preparing for Henri

The first thunderstorms bringing what could be up to half a foot of rain arrived late Saturday, and flash flooding began in some areas overnight. Bands of heavy rain overwhelmed storm drains and drivers plowed through foot-deep water in a few spots in New York City, and Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken in New Jersey.

Tropical storm-intensity winds began to strike the coast Sunday morning. Rising tide threatened to produce dangerous storm surge.

People in the projected path spent Saturday scrambling to stock up on groceries and gasoline. Those close to the coast boarded up windows and, in some cases, evacuated.

Residents and visitors on Fire Island, a narrow strip of sandy villages barely above sea level off Long Island’s southern coast, were urged to evacuate. The last boats out left before 11 p.m. Saturday and officials warned there might be no way to reach people left behind.

Approaching severe weather Saturday night also cut short a superstar-laden concert in Central Park.

Gov. Ned Lamont warned Connecticut residents they should prepare to “shelter in place” from Sunday afternoon through at least Monday morning as the state braces for the first possible direct hit from a hurricane in decades. Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee issued a similar warning.

President Joe Biden declared disasters in much of the region, opening the purse strings for federal recovery aid. The White House said Biden discussed preparations with northeastern governors and that New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who succeeds Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, also participated.

Major airports in the region remained open as the storm approached, though hundreds of Sunday’s flights were canceled. Service on some branches of New York City’s commuter rail system was suspended through Sunday, as was Amtrak service between New York and Boston.

New York hasn’t had a direct hit from a powerful cyclone since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc in 2012. Some of the most important repairs from that storm have been completed, but many projects designed to protect against future storms remain unfinished.

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Porter reported from New York. Associated Press writers Michael Hill in Albany, New York, William J. Kole in Warwick, Rhode Island, Mallika Sen and Larry Neumeister in New York, Mike Melia in Hartford, Connecticut, and Mark Pratt in Waltham, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.

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