On Thursday morning, people in the Mid-Atlantic states awoke to a trail of destruction left behind by Ida, some of it still ongoing. Tornadoes had touched down in Maryland and in the Philadelphia suburbs, while rain-swollen rivers were still rising.
Officials in Pennsylvania said emergency responders had conducted thousands of water rescues across the state over the past 24 hours, pulling people out of apartment buildings and cars as towns and roads were inundated by floodwaters.
In the Philadelphia area, where tens of thousands of people were without power, a portion of a major highway running through the center of the city was submerged. The Schuylkill River had reached “major” flood stage overnight, covering nearby roadways, rendering them impassable and leaving cars across the city nearly completely under water.
“We are still doing water rescues across the city; we’ve done that for the past 15 hours now continually,” said Adam Thiel, the Philadelphia fire commissioner, in a news briefing. “We know that the flooding reached levels that have not been seen in 100 years,” he added. “And potentially this will be a record-breaking flood.”
The mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, emphasized that while the storm may have been record-breaking, it was part of a pattern of disaster caused by climate change.
“Extreme weather events like Ida are not isolated incidents,” the mayor said. “They are another indication of the worsening climate crisis.”
Above the flooded interstate running through downtown, where people took photographs of the muddy water lapping road signs, several echoed the mayor’s comments.
“Al Gore gave us a wake-up call 20 years ago, and no one paid attention,” said Frank Feingold, 76, a retired probation officer.
In Manayunk, a neighborhood on the Schuylkill, brown floodwaters swirled through the open doors and windows of restaurants along Main Street, including Pizzeria L’Angolo. Its owner, Guido Abbate, stood outside and took stock.
He had put sandbags outside the business around midnight on Wednesday, he said, but the defenses had been rapidly overwhelmed by the floodwaters. He and his family had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in ovens, refrigerators and other equipment, he said, and he was unable to save any of them.
“It was coming so hard that the basement filled up, and it was coming through the heating and air-conditioning vents,” he said. “It came halfway up the windows.”
Some of the hardest-hit areas were in the Philadelphia suburbs. In Montgomery County, officials said at a news briefing that “the size and scope of the damage from this storm has been vast,” with record flooding prompting hundreds of water rescues, and a possible tornado. Three people had died in the county, officials said, two apparently from drowning.
“After last night’s rain, the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen Creek are continuing to rise,” said Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, the chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. “I want to emphasize that they have not yet crested. Both waterways have already surpassed all time records.”
In Bucks County late Wednesday night, Pennsylvania state troopers tried to reach a car that had driven into floodwaters but had to postpone their efforts when conditions grew too severe. When they returned early Thursday morning, the driver, a 65-year-old man, was found dead in the car.
In Bucks County, where the Delaware River was still rising, officials said there was not a municipality that was unaffected by the storm. Roads were impassable and bridges were out across the county; Gene DiGirolamo, a county commissioner, said some areas got 10 inches of rain. “I don’t think it would be over the top to say this storm has been catastrophic,” Mr. DiGirolamo said.
Mitchelle Stephenson, a spokeswoman for Annapolis, said a tornado that landed near the city had left about 2,500 residents without power, and that the city had received reports of fallen trees. The fire and police departments had closed streets to assess the damage, according to Ms. Stephenson, who said no injuries had been reported.
Forecasters were concerned about flooded rivers, and Wilmore Dam in central Pennsylvania was “overtopping” at one point with approximately three feet of rainwater, said John Banghoss, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in State College, Pa. About 42,000 residents were ordered to move to higher ground.
Reporting was contributed by Jon Hurdle, Isabella Grullón Paz, Eduardo Medina, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Ashley Wong and Tiffany May.
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