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New York and New Jersey declare a state of emergency amid floods

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's been more rain in New York City today, though not as drenching as yesterday's storms. Both New York and New Jersey declared a state of emergency as the region got several inches of rain in just a few hours. John F. Kennedy Airport had more than eight inches by nightfall. Fortunately, no deaths have been attributed to the weather, but the flooding has been severe. Member station WNYC's Bahar Ostadan joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

BAHAR OSTADAN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: How's the city look today?

OSTADAN: So the city's pretty much up and running this morning with a few exceptions. But New Yorkers were really caught off guard yesterday. You know, no one expected when they left the house in the morning that parts of the city would see two to three feet of standing water. There were kids stuck at school. Almost every train line was down or limited by midday yesterday. You know, commuters were stuck inside trains or in the subway stations for two to three hours. My colleague caught up with Marquise Hicks. He was stranded in a Brooklyn subway station just trying to pick up his paycheck from work.

MARQUISE HICKS: I can't take the F train. Why? I don't know. That's why I'm confused. I'm going to have to walk, man, in that rain. I got to pick up my check, man.

SIMON: Bahar, how did city officials manage the crisis?

OSTADAN: Well, weather experts started warning about the floods Thursday morning. The mayor sent a news release via email late that night asking people to use public transportation. But, really, the severity of the situation wasn't clear. And it wasn't until noon yesterday that Mayor Eric Adams made his first public appearance, issuing a state of emergency and asking New Yorkers to shelter in place. But obviously, you know, this was hours after people had already gone to work, to school. A terminal at LaGuardia Airport was shut down. So he received a lot of criticism. And as he's been in the past, he became defensive. By the end of the day yesterday, he went on several local news outlets saying, you know, if people were caught off guard, they'd had to have been living under a rock.

SIMON: Bahar, it must have been a nightmare for families trying to get their children from school.

OSTADAN: Definitely. So schools were open. Families did their regular drop-off in the morning. But by the end of the day, 150 schools had actually flooded. There were toilets overflowing, cafeterias overflowing. And in at least one school, students were evacuated and moved to another school several blocks away. By the afternoon, parents were really panicking about how to pick up their kids. My colleague caught up with Yohanna Sowler, who was coordinating pickup for the kids with other parents in a WhatsApp group.

YOHANNA SOWLER: People are saying, I'm headed here. You know, does your child need to go anywhere close to here? And so there's a real sort of community group effort going on to make sure that kids get home.

SIMON: Bahar, what's the feeling today? Was the city prepared?

OSTADAN: Since Hurricane Ida in 2021, the city has made some improvements to the infrastructure. But the main issue yesterday was that the city's drainage system can only take 1.75 inches of rain per hour. We got up to 2 1/2 inches an hour yesterday, so transit workers were pumping thousands of gallons of water out of the subway tunnels. The city also is housing thousands of migrants in temporary shelters here, sometimes tents. So some of them, you know, had to leave facilities yesterday.

SIMON: Bahar Ostadan of member station WNYC. Thanks so much for being with us.

OSTADAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BLACKBYRDS' "ALL I ASK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Bahar Ostadan