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Heavy Flooding pushes some New York counties in declare state of emergency

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Parts of New York are swamped from a day of drenching rains that flooded roadways and inundated subways and street-level shops and apartments. The rain appeared to set a record at JFK Airport, and the governors of both New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency. WNYC's Charles Lane joins us from downtown Brooklyn. Charles, how wet are you? How's the city coping?

CHARLES LANE, BYLINE: I'm dry. I'm hiding underneath a shelter right now. But, yeah, it was a mess today.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about how the city is dealing with it.

LANE: We're scrambling. I think many of us were caught off guard because the worst of the flooding happened right in the middle of the day while people were at work or at school. We saw two to three feet of standing water in places in Brooklyn. And, you know, we have basement apartments. And we - there's photos online of the water coming up halfway to the door. And, of course, the biggest problem is transit. With much of our system underground, it's just especially prone to flooding. Our transit system's chief says the system was either shut down - half of the system was either partially suspended or shut down.

It was just a really bad game of whack-a-mole with tourists and commuters. They're trying to get home or to the airport, and they would get on one train, and then that train would suspend service because of power outage. And then we'd all be directed to another train, but then that train would stop running. In the end, it was very difficult to get from Manhattan to Queens or from Queens to Brooklyn. Passengers reported that the roads weren't much better with bus service suspended and intersections completely flooded.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that the worst of the flooding happened while kids were at school. So how did the storm affect them?

LANE: Yeah. School officials reported that 150 schools were flooded out of 1,400. Kids and teachers were telling us about overflowing toilets and flooded cafeterias, erupted - erupting water fountains. New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a shelter-in-place order that applied to students at New York City public schools until dismissal. Many parents came to pick up their children because there was no other option for them to get home. I spoke to one mother, Yolanda Williams (ph), at Brooklyn Tech, where - the basement there flooded, and classes had to be moved upstairs.

YOLANDA WILLIAMS: I waited over an hour for a bus. The bus never came. I ended up getting a cab. I paid about 50 bucks to take from Long Island City to get to Bed-Stuy and get to my car where the G train would have taken me. And then I decided to get my daughter because there's no way for her to get home. We live on the last stop on the 2 train.

SHAPIRO: That sounds miserable. What have city leaders been doing today?

LANE: Well, parents complained that Mayor Adams was, again, caught flat-footed in a climate emergency, essentially leaving kids at school with no way to get home. You can look online, and there's plenty of jokes where Adams is the butt of them. And this goes back to the wildfire smoke that enveloped the city back in June, and he was blamed for not being prepared then. However, Rohit Aggarwala, the chief climate officer and commissioner of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection - he says that the mayor appointed him and others to harden the city against these types of events.

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Overall, as we know, this changing weather pattern is the result of climate change, and the sad reality is our climate is changing faster than our infrastructure can respond.

LANE: City officials say that the sewer system was designed to only take 1.75 inches of rainfall per hour, and at the worst of the storm, we saw about 2.5 inches per hour - so clearly too much rain.

SHAPIRO: And in just a sentence or two, are things now beginning to recover, get back to normal?

LANE: I hope so. I have to get home somehow. But all transit officials are able to say is to keep checking our apps for updates.

SHAPIRO: Hope you get home safely. Charles Lane of member station WNYC, speaking with us from Brooklyn. Thank you, and good luck.

LANE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, a National Murrow, and he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.