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Politics and Government

Feds approve emergency funding for NY as recovery from Ida begins

Mike Groll/ Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a briefing on storm damage on Staten Island Friday

New York will receive federal emergency relief funding to address the devastation caused downstate this week by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which caused major flooding throughout parts of New York City and its suburban counties.

As of Friday afternoon, the storm surge from Ida had killed 15 people, most of which lived in basement apartments in New York City.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, Friday afternoon, said the Biden administration had approved the state’s request for an Emergency Disaster Declaration for 14 of the state’s counties, including the five boroughs of New York City.

That will allow the state to immediately receive $5 million in federal funding to help respond to the storm’s impact in the affected counties.

New York is also seeking millions more in federal funding to recover from the storm in the coming weeks, but that process is more complicated. To receive that funding, New York has to show the state sustained at least $30 million in damage as a result of the storm.

Hochul said Friday morning that, although the state will have to formally assess and document that damage, she believes the threshold has already been met.

“We actually need real numbers to submit to the federal government to meet the threshold of $30 million,” Hochul said. “That will not be a problem, we are well in excess of $30 million of damage throughout this region.”

In the meantime, Hochul said she’s directing the MTA to survey how the mass transit system could be better prepared for extreme weather events, like Ida.

While the storm flooded city streets, it also overwhelmed subway stations, which are no stranger to flooding. Trains were trapped in the middle of routes at times, forcing passengers to walk down dark, empty tunnels until they found a way out.

“I think we just start deploying people out there to check on where it happened the most, where the water came from, and where’d the water go,” Hochul said. “We need to treat this with the urgency that this could happen again next weekend.”

At an event Friday afternoon, Hochul said she wanted to identify subway stops particularly vulnerable to flooding during extreme weather events, and implement a policy that would close those stations when they’re expected to pose a risk to passengers.

“I want to find out a better way where we know where the most vulnerable places are and what we can do there,” Hochul said. “To me that’s just very logical: don’t let anyone else enter the subways until we can let everybody know there’s a danger out there.”

Some have been critical of both the city and state’s response to the storm, which weather forecasters warned would drop a substantial amount of rain.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson released a statement Friday morning with other members saying they’d be holding a hearing to determine how the state and city prepared for the storm and initially responded when conditions took a turn for the worse.

“What happened on Wednesday raises several urgent questions, including why we weren’t better prepared for an anticipated storm,” the statement said. “We know climate change is an unavoidable factor at this point, so at the very least, we need an infallible plan to warn and protect New Yorkers for the storms to come.

Hochul, and others, have blamed climate change for the frequency — and intensity — of extreme weather events that have hit areas of New York in recent years.

The state is no stranger to extreme weather. Buffalo was covered with seven feet of snow in just a matter of days in 2014, and the state just passed the 10-year mark of Irene and Lee, which ravaged Long Island and parts of upstate New York.

Those storms were different. Ida, according to state officials, dropped an unprecedented amount of rain in just an hour, which caused parts of the city to be submerged almost instantly.

As of Friday morning, some areas of downstate New York remained flooded, and recovery efforts were already underway in places where that was possible.