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At This Hour

At Least 11 Killed in Historic Floods in the Northeast. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 02, 2021 - 11:00   ET



UNIDENTIFED MALE: And so, there has to be oversight and we have to figure out what we're not doing right, that we have to make sure that these folks, that every time it rains, that they're not out here. Every time it rains, my staff and I, we have the hot spots as the borough president knows. You call over here, you call certain areas in Springfield Gardens to see if it is working.

And guess what? Two weeks ago when we had the major flood, the record breaker, we were okay. This is different. And the loss lives are unacceptable. We absolutely have to make sure that we're taking care of families.

And I want to say that these folks here are the epitome of resiliency. They take care of each other, they feed each other one, they house each other, and we are here with you. We're going to continue to be here with you.

Again I want to thank the governor, Senator Schumer, the mayor, just for the collaboration of resources that are going to be here in Queens. We want to make sure that we're all here to make sure that this is done equitably and that these folks here that have been suffering so long suffer no more. Thank you.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK: At this point, we'll take questions. But I also want to make a statement before we go on to questions. To the people who live on streets like these throughout the city of New York, I want them to know, a new administration, my administration, we don't govern by press conference.

Yes, we're here today to answer questions but I want to assure them, it's not just about today, it's what we do tomorrow, the next day and the next day. So you're going to see a different tone, a different era of collaboration and I served as a council member for 14 years. So I've been in the streets for a long time to know what it takes to get the job done. You don't just show up one day you show up until the job is done. With that we'll take questions.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I'm going to go.

HOCHUL: Thank you, Senator.

Also want to acknowledge the presence of our public advocate, Jumaane Williams and Senator John Lewis joins us.

I can't hear.


HOCHUL: Excellent questions. Those are my question this is morning when I spoke to the leadership at the MTA. We need to identify the areas where we have vulnerabilities on our streets with the drainage systems are not functioning properly and they're close to the entrance of a subway.

And we need to be able to fix those first, so we don't get a situation where the drainage situation and the sewer system can't handle the volume, and then the water just creates a river down the steps and into the subway system. I think that's our first priority.

I want an after-action report on this. What do we know and when did we know what we had, what information do we had. Were there any intelligence failures in terms of our preparedness? I know I deployed resources yesterday morning but we did not know that between 8:50 and 9:50 last night, that the heavens would open up and bring Niagara Falls level water to the street of New York.

Could that have been anticipated? I want to find out. Is that something we should have known in the advance?

And the question is should we have shut down subways earlier. We have to realize many people were already on the subways. We shut them down. They are trapped underground.

That is not an option. But I want to assess why we don't stop new passengers from going down the stairs into them. It's about evacuation, not bringing new people into the system at the time. And your first question was?


HOCHUL: There were storm warnings, tornado warnings throughout the evening. But I will see whether or not more could have been done. That is a good question.

REPORTER: Governor, two questions. Can you talk about any damage at rail yards and --

HOCHUL: Yeah, we have damage, we have damage. And I'm going to be out visiting some of the sites right now and we'll be embedded with FEMA personnel.

This is what happens first. Everything has to settle down and stabilize and make sure we're protecting life and property, job number one. Number two, within a few days we go out with the FEMA crews and literally add up the extent of the damage, file for our declaration with the federal government and this is again what President Biden assured me, he said, Kathy, I'm going to do this for you, you tell me what you need.

So we're prepared to take those steps starting right now.

REPORTER: And Mayor de Blasio, I just heard from a neighbor who said they have been asking for help about the sewers. You (INAUDIBLE)


Can you explain why this was seeming such a failure on the part of the city (INAUDIBLE)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: Let me get our DEP commissioner, I think he's here, Vinny Sapienza, who could speak to the specifics. Have him come over.

Look, as you heard from Congressman Meeks and from borough President Richards and council member miller, over the last few years we made a $2 billion investment in addressing the infrastructure problems of southeast Queens including the sewer problems.

This is a tragically a very long standing problem and one of the things that became clear was we were going to have to make an extraordinary investment to address it. As you've heard, that investment is having impact but it's not complete. It is been going on for years. It will take some years to finish.

In terms of the impact on this immediate area, Commissioner Vinny Sapienza of DEP.


DE BLASIO: Here we go.

SAPIENZA: OK. So thanks.

So, a couple of things. One is the rate of rainfall that occurred was just really extraordinary. Council member Miller mentioned the storm that we had a couple of weeks ago with the remnants of Henri which is about the same total amount of rainfall that fell. But this all fell within a very short window. A few hours and that is a big difference.

As the mayor said, we recognize in this area of southeast Queens, investment was needed and long over due. The mayor announced a $2 billion commitment and that is well underway.


SAPIENZA: Yeah. So, we're going to do that full hydraulic assessment. But rainfall rates were really extraordinary and far exceeded the capacity of the system. Anything over two inches an hour, we're going to have trouble with.


REPORTER: If I could just follow up on Katie's question because you are all talking and, Governor, for all of you as well, you're talking about this is a warning call and a warning, but the fact is we've been having these events, we're talking about how this happens all of the time. We have two hurricanes in last couple of days and you talk about the need for investment.

What is the help for people that are here right now, the next time it rains a lot that they're in the same position that they were last night and their lives are in danger?

HOCHUL: I have been to so many catastrophic flooding events from Lake Ontario to Long Island to now so city. So this is not unusual any more. Anyone who said it is once in a century, once in 500 years, I don't -- I'm not buying it.

This has to be considered the normal course of business. So we need to take steps to prepare. We should have evacuation plans that every single homeowner knows about. What you do when the waters start rising.

Is our communications system adequate to let people know in homes and on subways that is dangerous. Our alerts going out on people's cell phones and are we doing a good enough job?

Because I'm not going to stand here and guarantee it won't happen again tomorrow. I don't know that. But I know we need to do much more in our resiliency, addressing climate change and we have an aggressive program that I'm going to take to the next level. But that's long- term. That's not going to help people on the street. I'm not going to pretend it will.

What I'm talking about letting them know we've got their backs, we'll help them heal, we'll get them the resources from the federal government once they get the declaration and let them know we're not satisfied either. This is not okay with any of us.

DE BLASIO: Hold on. Let me add. Let me add. Excuse me.

Gloria, to your question, I think we now understand that every attempt at projection bluntly is failing us. Let's be clear. We're getting from the very best experts projections that then are made a mockery in a matter of minutes.

What I want to work with the governor on, and by her comments you can see, she's is already there. We need to start communicating to people that we have to assume things are going to be much worse in literally every situation

Yesterday morning, the report was three to six inches over the course of the whole day which was not a particularly problematic amount. That turned into the biggest single hour of rainfall in New York City history with almost no warning. So, now, we've got to change the ground rules.

From now on, what I think we do is tell New Yorkers to experience the very, very worst. It may sound alarmist at times, but unfortunately, it is being proven by nature. The infrastructure investments look $2 billion in southeast Queens is a big deal. But what we're seeing is we need more than we to offer possibly imagine.

Thank God for the first time in our lifetimes almost the federal government is finally truly committed to infrastructure spending. But I think what's -- I don't think it is too little too late. I think it would have helped us a hell of a lot more few decades ago.


But we're going to be playing a lot of catch-up. But we're talking not billions -- tens of billion dollars, even hundreds of billion dollars to make people safe.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Let me say one thing on that. The $3.5 million that we're trying to get through in the reconciliation bill is to deal just with that. That is why that is such a big issue in Washington, D.C. Not just the 1.8 for infrastructure, but when we're talking about climate change, when we're talking about housing and we're talking about making sure that we have the resilience for the future. Not for today, just for today, but for the future, we must get this $3.5 trillion bill done.

And that is what it is all about in Washington, D.C. and we're coming together to do that.

DE BLASIO: Thank you.

HOCHUL: Thank you, everybody.

DE BLASIO: Who are you asking?

REPORTER: Can we get an update?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First, our hearts go out to all of the victims. It is a unimaginable loss for New York city and for Queens.

Right now, and we pray that the number does not go up further, we have nine confirmed victims. Eight of the nine victims are in the borough of Queens. Eight of the nine victims also took place in residential homes in basements.

The latest victim that we have is a individual that passed away after a vehicle accident on the Grand Central Parkway and they were discovered in the backseat of the car within the last hour.

So, again, we pray that the number does not go up from there. And certainly in the NYPD and all city workers, our hearts go out to all of the victims for this terrible tragedy.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. We have been watching. This is an update from the New York governor and New York officials on the truly historic storm that we have been watching play out overnight. Just before that we heard from the governor of New Jersey and other local officials giving very much the same update.

They were standing in front of a home that was wiped out from a tornado. Flooding in places that flooding doesn't happen at those levels. Tornados in places where tornados don't happen. That is what we are seeing play out all across the Northeast. And what we've been watching here on the other side of your screen,

WPVI. We're looking at some place -- I'm trying to get exactly where it is, in the state of Pennsylvania where we do know that active water rescues are underway. I mean, this is a dire situation unfolding at this hour in Pennsylvania, New Jersey. We're seeing aerials of people being rescued from rooftops and inside of homes due to high water.

Highways and streets in Philadelphia area are looking like lakes. Look at that rushing water on your screen right now. Crews are using boats to reach team who are trapped. You could see that washed out roadway on the left side of the screen right there from the affiliate WPVI.

The Schuylkill River which is in and around Pennsylvania in that area is flowing over its banks. It's now expected to crest at record- breaking levels. Just look at these pictures. This is in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania.

In New York City where we're just hearing from officials, we know that nine people are confirmed dead. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the first time ever for New York City.

The record rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ida inundating subways with gushing water. I mean, it shut down the transit system and also, as you heard from the governor, stranded riders who didn't know it was shut down for hours.

This is a subway system in New York. It is terrifying. And it wasn't just the record rainfall that is causing problems all throughout the region. As I mentioned New Jersey, we're talking tornados destroying homes. It is enormous tornados causing extensive damage in parts of New Jersey.

Coming up this hour, President Biden will be addressing the nation in really we expect now just minutes about everything that has played out in terms of the effects of hurricane Ida, from Louisiana, now up to the Northeast, and the president will be traveling to Louisiana tomorrow.

Let me get and bring in right now the former governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell. He's also the former mayor of Philadelphia.

Governor, thank you for being here. I can't believe some of the photos, the images and video. We're looking at video from WPVI right now of what we're seeing coming out of Pennsylvania. What do you think of these pictures?

ED RENDELL, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: Well, this is truly historic. To give you an example -- by the way, congratulations for pronouncing Schuylkill correctly. No one from outside the city can do that.

Schuylkill River, it was the biggest problem. The water over flowed a little bit but it is receded. (INAUDIBLE)

[11:20:08] The west end of the city, the Schuylkill normally crest between six and seven feet and it is now cresting at 17 feet which breaks the record of 16 feet in 1996. We believe may go 18 feet.

So the three of our major arteries are up. The drives that come into the city from the western suburbs on either side of the Schuylkill, they are both closed because of the flooding. You can't get through waters above car level in certain places.

The connector, that connects to the city west end to the Schuykill River and the Schuylkill expressway to I-95 that goes through town, all the way through town, that is totally shut for at least a day, at least a day. I've never seen anything like this. This is just extraordinary.

BOLDUAN: When I was seeing, and look, I know the Philadelphia area well only from my job in -- I've never lived there. But I do know when I heard that the Schuylkill River rose 12 feet between 4:00 p.m. and midnight. That is jaw-dropping.

RENDELL: Unbelievable. I live in a town that overlooks the Schuylkill. So we're not in any danger of flooding in my house. But the streets that go up the hill are totally impassable. If I was still governor, you would have to helicopter me out.

BOLDUAN: That is unbelievable, Gov. So Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, this is just for everyone to get a sense of what we're talking about, this is a city outside of Philadelphia. This is in one of the counties that we talk about. The mayor there said this morning, that they are very much still under water. They've evacuated at least 50 people from their homes. I think he said even on just one street. The mayor himself said he is stuck at the moment as well.

Where does Governor Wolf need to be focusing efforts first?

RENDELL: I'm sure he has, the first thing the governor has do and probably already done it is mobilize the National Guard. The National Guard, when we have Hurricane Ivan, when I was governor in 2004, I mobilized guard and we did over 350 rescues from homes in New York and Pennsylvania border. So the governor I'm sure is in the process of mobilizing the guard itself.

The guard is equipped to do this type of stuff as well as anybody. And we have a great large National Guard. That is what I'm sure the governor is bringing into play.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. We were just listening into the briefing from New York Governor Kathy Hochul and so everyone could see, we're looking on your screen, this is moments ago. More water rescues in and around parts of Pennsylvania and I'm sure around parts of Philadelphia and the collar counties and you could guarantee that what they're on is someone's street as they're rescuing people.

But the New York governor was talking about how the record rainfall that was set the record last night in New York just beat a record that was set one week ago. The effects of climate change are present not future. And they were leaning in very much in this remark about -- I'm looking at this other video that came in from WPVI, and they are just on boats going from car to car and in one neighborhood where the cars are completely covered by water and you know that what they're doing is trying to check and see if anyone is inside.

This is unbelievable. That is a residential neighborhood. And it is up to the -- it is up to the top of the car.

RENDELL: Our downtown has a lot of people, over 150,000 people live in our downtown area. And I know we've been doing rescues from 22nd and Arch Street from townhouses which is the western perimeter of downtown. I never thought I would see a flood rescue.

We used to say, used to say I should advertise Pennsylvania by saying come to Pennsylvania, we have reasonably good weather, no floods, no tornados, no fires. But we can't say that any more. And we can't say that any more in America because of the climate change and because we have to respond to climate change. And the fires in the west, the floods that we've been having, these events don't convince us, then shame on us.

BOLDUAN: This is a big conversation obviously that needs to go on on the federal level well, on the state level. As we're reminded of the press conference in New York, this is a big part of the conversation going on in Washington.

But as I'm looking at the very active scenes that are happen right now, what do the conversations need to be like among governors, among mayors and how they need to prepare because as Kathy Hochul said pretty well, she can't guarantee, this is not going to happen tomorrow.


RENDELL: Well, I don't want to be partisan. And I'm trying not to be and I've tried not to be all my career. But we have to talk to some moderate and sensible Republicans. They that have to sign on to real federal plans to combat climate change. Time is running out. Our kids' ability to live in a country that is passable is at stake. We have to do this and do it now.

We're behind the curve because we've delayed so long. And so that is what we've got to do. We have to convince enough people in Washington to take this deadly seriously.

And, by the way, it's interesting. I remember Hurricane Sandy did a lot of damage and water got into the New York subways and I thought that New York had decided to raise the entrant levels to the subways, to build up some short steps so you would have to go up where you go down. That would have kept the water out in a case like this. But one and a half, two feet of stairs up to the entrances of the subways. Wonder what happened to that idea.

BOLDUAN: Governor, if you could stick with me. I'm going to move over and if you could listen in because I'll check back in with you. I'm going to get over to Mayor Tom Murphy of Mamaroneck, New York. This is outside of New York City. This is a great little town on the long island sound in Westchester County.

Mayor, could you hear me.

MAYOR TOM MURPHY, MAMARONECK, NEW YORK (via telephone): Yes, Ms. Bolduan. Thank you for having me on.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Please call me, Kate. What is the situation in your town right now?

MURPHY: The situation -- you know, the flooding that we had last night was the most intense and most extensive that we've had in any one's memory. I've been an elected official for 21 years and this dwarfed anything that we've experienced and we've experienced a lot of flooding over the years.

Our emergency services have been hundreds of rescues. The rescues still continue. People are still trapped in their home. We have called in mutual aid from other communities. And you've asked New York state and for National Guard and we have done everything we can do and keep doing to rescue our residents and to help our residents.

And I just want to point out, we have blessed to have a volunteer fire department that is all volunteer and these men and women have been out all night protecting our residents and they've got their families in the comfort of their home to help us all out and we can't say enough about them.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, and these are not only the first responders, they're all families and homes are impacted as well.

MURPHY: Yeah. Very often, yes.

BOLDUAN: As you said, you still have people trapped and you still have active rescues going on. How many people have had to be rescued in town so far?

MURPHY: I don't have an exact count. But I would say in the hundreds.

BOLDUAN: Really?



BOLDUAN: Just so everyone knows, I want to know that this is not a huge city. This is a beautiful village town. A hundred rescues in your town, that is significant.

MURPHY: It is. And thank you for saying that. It is a beautiful town. We are at the confluence of two rivers in a neighborhood called Washingtonville. It is a low-lying area and it flooded really intensively last night. So that is where we're concentrating our efforts.

There were other people that are problems and we to remove them to. But there are parts that never saw flooding. People never got water in their basements before, but they're basement filled up last night. It's a very precarious evening. And hopefully I think that we're going to come out of it so far without any loss of life. I hope that continues. And if that is the case, it is a credit to our first responders.

BOLDUAN: How dangerous is it if people are going on the roads right now.

MURPHY: People shouldn't be on the roads, and last night especially. People shouldn't be on the roads. Because we need the roads open for emergency services. There is no need to go sightseeing. You could look at pictures on social media or any other form.

Allow our emergency services, our police and our fire, we have rescue units from New York City already here, rescue units. We need to allow them to do their work without people doing sightseeing so I'm asking residents to stay home and I'm hopeful that our Governor Hochul will send us the National Guard.


And they've been very generous with equipment before and this is where we're a community that looks out for each other. And they're doing it right now. We're looking out for one another. And as governor said before, about his home town, we're going to get through this and get through this strong.

But my community has been slated to get an Army Corp of Engineers plan for at least over ten years now. And the plan was developed and it was going to be implemented but it got killed in the last administration in Washington. So I'm hoping that we could revive that plan under the Biden administration. And really get some relief for our residents.

You know, many of our residents have suffered through this for years. And they have kind of a PTSD every time they get intense rain and they get up set and anxious. I don't blame them. A lot of people lost everything they have. And it is the people with the least resiliency who lost the most.

So we owe to our residents an our community to get help from the federal government to fix this problem.

BOLDUAN: I have to say, it's really striking to hear that you've already had to rescue at least a hundred people from their homes. And do you have any guess or estimate of how many more people still need to be rescued today? It shows how much this is an ongoing threat that is happening right now.

MURPHY: I don't have an estimate. I would say at least scores. And some areas we couldn't get the equipment in to get people out of the second floor of their homes, because the first floor was inundated.

BOLDUAN: I'm sorry, I didn't ask off the top. How is your home and your family, Mayor?

MURPHY: Well, my kids are away on vacation. So they're fine. And they're home is fine. My home is fine. I'm very lucky.

BOLDUAN: Everyone is counting the blessings, albeit maybe very small today with the images that we're seeing.

Mayor, please stay in touch. I'll check back in with you, thank you very much for your time.

Let me bring in --

MURPHY: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Let me bring in the former FDNY Commissioner Tom Von Essen. Also back with me is the former governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell. He knows this very much.

I mean, I'm sure you haven't had a chance to see the pikes that I'm seeing from WPVI. Active, ongoing water rescues in homes and people throwing backpacks out of window to try to then crawl into the boats. It is pretty unbelievable. Tom, what do you think of the pictures?

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER FDNY COMMISSIONER: Well, one thing Mayor Murphy mentioned hit home with me. I've seen it all of my years in the city of New York and I saw it in FEMA and Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, it is the poor people who really get the worst effects of any of these type of disasters, whether it is flooding or fire. You name it and it is the poor person and the wealthy people figure out a way to -- in better place an higher grounds, they're not in basements where they get caught short.

So these are the folks that really need it and these are the areas where the infrastructure is the worst. Governor Rendell mentioned the subway system. I can't imagine how you really fix that because the couple of steps raised, you have to worry tripping hazards and things like that and you have the ice and the craziness of the city and the rushing of people.

But I mean you can't just keep saying this stuff all of these years. I've been watching all of this stuff in the city for the 50 years and we keep talking about making these improvements and phone has ever really held accountable to make them. And this kind of money is big money and it is long-term and it is inconvenient, every time a governor or a mayor shuts down a bridge or doing construction on a highway, people complaining and what Governor Cuomo did at the airports was phenomenal but pressure for people from the inconvenience.

So you have to just do it and you have to have the guts to take on the criticisms when you're a public official. To get this work done. And in the past, the combination of the money and the wherewithal and the courage to take often this stuff is, we haven't had it. And now we have a real mess and it is will be years before we could fix all of this. Nothing is unprecedented any more. The emergencies are happening very different than they were when I started a long time ago. BOLDUAN: Yeah, the superlatives are meaningless at this point, Tom,

because it is every week, there is a historic record set which is really a sad statement. I was struck by the mayor saying that in the Mamaroneck saying in Mamaroneck, they have had to do a hundred rescues of people in their homes. That's -- that is crazy considering, I mean, Mamaroneck is a small place.