While trying to remedy the effects of his government’s biggest foreign policy crisis —the chaotic withdrawal of military troops from Afghanistan—, President Joe Biden went to take a closer look this Friday (3) at the damage caused by another dispute, this internal one: the damage caused by Ida.
As a hurricane and tropical storm, the phenomenon hit the United States from north to south. It destroyed entire communities in Louisiana, on the Gulf of Mexico, which already counts nine dead, and caused flooding in the northeast. This Friday, the count in the New York region (in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut) reached 46 victims, and there is still a record of one dead in Maryland.
The number, however, could increase as, according to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, there are still six people missing in the state.
It was in Louisiana, hit by Ida last Sunday (29), that Biden landed on Friday. In addition to the casualties, the storm left 1 million people without power and 600,000 without water. The situation is now hit by a heat wave, aggravated by high humidity.
Biden met with state governor John Bel Edwards and local officials and pledged to act to restore power to the affected population soon. He visited the small community of LaPlace, 50 km from New Orleans, which was hit hard by the storm. The reports of those who flew over the region are of devastating scenes, with smaller towns destroyed.
“The storm was incredible, not just here, but on the east coast as well,” said the Democrat, who defended an infrastructure plan to turn the electrical wires underground. “For them to stay underground, it costs a lot of money. But guess what, it also saves a lot more money in the long run.”
On the reconstruction of damaged sites, he recalled the positive impact of the structure erected after Hurricane Katrina — since, with the Ida, the number of deaths was significantly lower. “We cannot rebuild streets, roads, bridges, as before,” he said. “Things have changed a lot in terms of the environment. We’ve already crossed a certain threshold.”
While Louisiana is thinking about recovery, people in another part of the country are still dealing with the floods.
Americans in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are still trying to empty basements, which have become flooded, and are dealing with problems of power outages and damaged roofs. It was in rooms below street level that most of the 13 dead New Yorkers were trapped, raising questions about the city’s building design in an era of increasingly extreme weather events.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told local broadcaster MSNBC on Friday that it will be necessary to implement travel bans and evacuate more frequently in times of anticipated storms. “We have to change the whole way of thinking,” he said. “We’re going to need to do things differently.”
New York and New Jersey entered a state of emergency, and Biden authorized federal aid to repair the damage, the White House said.
The volume of rain recorded during the passage of storm Ida is already considered a record in different regions. In Central Park, which has weather records since 1869, the rain recorded on the fourth broke the old record of 1927. In the city of Newark, New Jersey, the previous record of 1959 was also surpassed.
Commenting on the destruction, Biden called the Ida the fifth-largest hurricane in American history.
On Wednesday, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations’ climate arm, said Ida could become the most costly climate disaster in history, even surpassing Hurricane Katrina, which left around 1,800 dead 16 years ago .
A 2018 survey by the US National Hurricane Center found that Katrina caused damages amounting to $125 billion ($173.75 billion today, in the inflation-adjusted amount, or R$902 billion at the current rate). The account takes into account impacts on agriculture, individual losses and government spending on repairing the damage.
The statement came shortly after the WMO released a global report demonstrating that the occurrence of extreme weather events has increased fivefold over the past five decades. Floods, the cause of deaths in New York and New Jersey on Wednesday, are the most frequent type of phenomenon. Of the more than 11,000 climate disasters recorded from 1970 to 2019, they accounted for 44%.
Other documents supported by the scientific community also raise the alert for the climate emergency. The latest National Climate Assessment report, done by US federal agencies, indicated that the increase in extreme precipitation is projected for all regions of the US over the next five decades, particularly in the American Midwest and Northeast.
A report by the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released in early August also brought worrying projections on the subject. Comparing the current situation with that of 1850, the agency calculated that the volume of water from storms is already 6.7% higher — and could reach 30.2% in the worst case.