Climate and Extreme WeatherSept. 7, 2021 Updated
Sept. 24, 2021, 10:31 a.m. ET Sept. 24, 2021, 10:31 a.m. ETSept. 24, 2021, 10:31 a.m. ET
Biden Surveys Damage From Ida to Eastern Seaboard
President Biden visited New York and New Jersey to assess damage from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Mr. Biden said the threat of climate change should be considered in how to rebuild after the storm.
The losses that we witnessed today are profound. Dozens of lost lives, homes destroyed in Manville — including by gas leaks triggered by the flooding — damaged infrastructure, including the rail system. And my thoughts are with all those families affected by the storms and all those families who lost someone they loved. For decades, scientists have warned of extreme weather and it would be more extreme. And climate change was here, and we’re living through it now. We don’t have any more time. I mean, every part of the country, every part of the country is getting hit by extreme weather, and we’re now living in real time what the country’s going to look like. And if we don’t do something — we can’t turn it back very much, but we can prevent it from getting worse. And so we’re all in this together, and we’ve got to make sure that we don’t leave any community behind — and it’s all across the country. And we’re going to build back, realizing what the status of the climate is now, what the trajectory of it is going to be. And we can no longer — we all know we can’t just build back to what it was before. Whatever damage done in New Jersey, you can’t build back and restore what it was before because another tornado, another 10 inches of rain, is going to produce the same kind of results.
President Biden warned Americans on Tuesday that Hurricane Ida’s lethal destruction was a sure sign of a nation and world “in peril” from climate change, and said drastic action would be needed to prevent extreme weather patterns from worsening.
“They all tell us this is code red,” Mr. Biden said from a neighborhood in Queens, referring to scientific research that suggests a growing number of Americans are vulnerable to extreme weather events. “The nation and the world are in peril. And that’s not hyperbole. That is a fact.”
The trip gave Mr. Biden another opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to the federal government’s storm response and to build support for an infrastructure package that he has promised would help safeguard against future storms. Flanked by New York’s senators, Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Mr. Biden said the bipartisan deal would include funds to repair roads and bridges but would also invest in climate resilience.
“Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, our economy, and the threat is here,” he said. “It’s not going to get any better. The question is: Can it get worse?”
On the same day as Mr. Biden’s visit, the White House sent Congress an “urgent” funding request for $14 billion to aid recovery from natural disasters that occurred before Hurricane Ida and to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1. The request forecast that billions more in additional funding would be necessary to respond to Ida, and also included $6.4 billion to assist in the processing of Afghan refugees overseas and in the United States.
“The administration is committed to delivering the funding necessary to help impacted states and tribes recover from recent extreme weather events and natural disasters,” Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in the letter to Congress. “We fully expect that Hurricane Ida will significantly increase the need for further disaster response funding, by at least $10 billion.”
After he arrived in New Jersey, Mr. Biden traveled with Gov. Phil Murphy to Somerset County, where he toured an emergency management training center and a neighborhood in Manville, where floodwaters caused explosions and fires in buildings. Ida killed at least 27 people in New Jersey — more fatalities than in any other state — and several people remain missing. Mr. Biden’s trip came four days after he visited Louisiana to survey damage there from Ida.
As the president made his way from the airport into Manville, his motorcade passed the still-smoldering remains of Saffron Banquet Hall, a building that exploded early Friday morning after floodwaters had nearly swallowed it. The banquet hall’s sign was still standing, but crooked, with a torn “Grand Opening” banner hanging from it. Nearby, a spray-painted sign held up by police tape read, “Help Manville Recover.”
A gantlet of debris, at times piled 10 feet high, stretched nearly all the way from the edge of one section of Manville through downtown. There were heaps of broken furniture and appliances; dirt-covered toys, including a human-size teddy bear; mounds of rotting drywall.
While Mr. Biden toured the neighborhood, he visited with families as a cluster of supporters of former President Donald J. Trump shouted at him from a distance.
“Well, thank God you’re safe,” Mr. Biden told one family whose home had been destroyed by a fire.
The president then traveled to Queens, where several people were killed in flooded basement apartments. Climate change has made low-lying dwellings particularly treacherous: Of the 13 people found dead in New York City from the storm, at least 11 were in basement units, according to the city’s Department of Buildings.
Large American flags waved above nearly every stoop on the northeast side of 88th Street near Astoria Boulevard ahead of Mr. Biden’s arrival on the block.
“He brings energy, hope. These people need hope,” said Sergio Bertoni, 61, gesturing toward the homes of his neighbors. “The president is the only person in this moment who can help.”
The governors of New York and New Jersey announced on Monday that they had been granted federal aid money from the Biden administration, which declared areas in both states major disaster zones following the torrential rains and catastrophic flooding last week.
The funding, which will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, means those who have been displaced from their homes by the storm in the approved counties, including people who do not have insurance coverage, will be eligible for money to repair their homes. It will also cover legal services, unemployment assistance and crisis counseling, officials from both states said.
In New York and New Jersey, advocates for tougher climate measures are hoping that the disaster will give momentum to new state and local climate laws and regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to help overcome opposition to more sweeping proposals.
MANVILLE, N.J. — In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, it is hard to find a single neighborhood — or even a street — in the small central New Jersey town of Manville that was not severely affected by flooding.
The working-class town of about 10,000 residents has seen many hardships.
Manville was named after the company Johns Manville, which manufactured asbestos there. Town residents found white flakes of asbestos floating in their pools, thinking nothing of it until the material was later found to cause cancer.
Another part of town was later designated a federal Superfund site, needing major environmental cleanup because a wood treatment facility had used creosote, a toxic substance dumped into two sludge lagoons. Manville families ice-skated on the frozen lagoons in winter, not knowing that the toxins had contaminated the ground and drinking water.
And flooding in Manville, which President Biden visited on Tuesday, has been an issue for decades. When Regina Petrone’s house flooded this time — she has lived in Manville for 30 years — she lost everything in her basement. The federal government has let Manville suffer, she said as the stench of sewage wafted through the pile of debris from her house.
In recent years, an Army Corps of Engineers study found that Manville did not meet the cost-benefit standard for any flood protection project; a series of dikes that were built in a nearby town, Bound Brook, saved it from Ida’s devastation.
“We’re the forgotten town,” Ms. Petrone said. “We’re too small to care about, evidently. So I hope Biden does something. This has gone on way too long.”
Ms. Petrone said she was not moving out of the Manville area called the Lost Valley because she raised two sons there and could not “get top dollar for the house anytime soon.” It is the most flood-prone area in town.
“Who’d want to buy here now?” she said. A house down the street exploded a day after the flooding. Several houses nearby have been condemned.
Yet residents like Ms. Petrone choose to stay. The location is good — about an hour from New York City and also an hour from the Jersey Shore — and the community of immigrants and many generations of families there have long been tight-knit.
Immigrants from Eastern Europe have flocked to Manville, and its Polish population is one of the state’s largest: One downtown church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, holds two Polish Masses on Sunday, and there are two delis that sell Eastern European food like pierogies and stuffed cabbage. Immigrants from Central and South America have made Manville more diverse.
Mauro Rojas and Karla Licano, who are from Costa Rica, moved to Manville two years ago. They looked at 30 houses but bought the one on Boesel Avenue, in the Lost Valley. The house was near a vast park and close to a river, and had a backyard with a big porch and an aboveground pool. It was perfect for a family with a young daughter and dog.
The couple had heard that the house had a 1 percent chance of flooding, and even knew that several surrounding lots were empty because the government had bought and demolished flood-prone homes. They took a chance. But the night the floodwaters rose, they saw their dream house — and all of the items in it — disappear.
When water began to leak into their first floor from the basement and front door, Mr. Rojas, who runs a painting business, grabbed a ladder and led his family, including their Beagle mix, to the roof.
Their daughter, Elena, snuggled into her blanket. The dog shook. In tears and with disbelief, the family watched their 1,200-gallon pool rise from the ground, lifted by the water below it.
In the morning, after climbing into a rescuer’s boat, Elena began to weep when she saw the 27 rainbow-colored bags she and her mother had filled with lighted eyeglasses, hair bows, chocolates and other treats the night before. They were floating down the street. It was her sixth birthday.
“She said, ‘Mom, my birthday bags! No!’ and my heart broke,” Ms. Licano, a secretary, said on Tuesday as she stood crying on a muddied floor.
“It’s so hard because I can’t do anything to fix things for Elena,” she said.
Ms. Licano hopes Mr. Biden can provide help, and quickly.
Elena is missing crucial days of kindergarten. Ms. Licano and her husband cannot work during the cleanup. She works in a tax business on South Main Street that lost everything.
Daniel Lopez, 42, lives a block from that street with his girlfriend, Liz Davis. Mr. Lopez, a locksmith, said he had lived through four floods since his parents moved into the house in 1991. But it had never been this catastrophic, he said.
“The people here can’t take much more of this,” he said.
By The New York Times
Follow the latest on Tropical Storm Nicholas .
After striking Canada as a Category 1 hurricane and causing widespread power outages in Newfoundland, Larry moved north toward Greenland, where the storm stayed out to sea but brought a hurricane season oddity to some parts of the island: snow caused by the remnants of a tropical storm.
Meteorologists from the Danish Meteorological Institute, which provides forecasts for Greenland, said the storm was expected to remain southeast of the Danish territory’s southern tip on Sunday as it continued on a path through the Denmark Strait.
In the southern parts of Greenland, where most residents live, there was some snow but not as much as expected, said Lars Demant-Poort, an assistant professor of natural geography at the University of Greenland. There were, however, reports in those areas of winds of about 40 miles per hour, with gusts reaching about 90 m.p.h., Danish forecasters said.
On Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said Larry was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it moved toward Greenland. Racing at a high latitude, Larry transitioned into a winter storm before moving near the island on Sunday, according to the weather station at the airport in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.
Forecasters said on Saturday that the storm could bring up to four feet of snow in parts of the subarctic island, an event meteorologists described as rare and emblematic of a year filled with extreme weather that has been intensified by climate change. But much of that snow could be in the northern half of the island, Mr. Demant-Poort said.
The Danish Meteorological Institute could not be reached on Sunday about snowfall totals.
Several forecasters noted the storm’s transformation on Twitter or on daily forecasts, describing it as a “snow-cane.” Just last month, it rained for the first time at the frigid high point of the Greenland ice sheet, which is two miles in the sky and more than 500 miles above the Arctic Circle.
In Newfoundland, images circulated of downed trees, and tens of thousands of customers lost power in St. John’s and surrounding areas because of “severe weather conditions,” according to the Newfoundland Power website.
Various roads and parks in St. John’s were closed to allow debris to be cleared, and the St. John’s airport experienced delays Saturday morning, the Canadian Broadcasting Association reported.
Larry made landfall near South East Bight on the Burin Peninsula at 11:45 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.
In the past 70 years, only 23 hurricanes or post-tropical storms of hurricane strength have made landfall in Canada, according to the Canadian Hurricane Center.
How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms
How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms
What is “landfall”? And what are you truly facing when you’re in the eye of the storm?
During hurricane season, news coverage and forecasts can include a host of confusing terms. Let’s take a look at what they mean →
How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms
You may read about hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones. So what’s the difference? Location.
“Hurricane” is largely used in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific; “typhoon,” in the Northwest Pacific; and “cyclone” in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.
The Atlantic season, when hurricanes and tropical storms are most likely to hit the U.S., runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms
Here’s what all these storms have in common: They’re low-pressure circular systems that form over warm waters. A system becomes a tropical storm when its winds exceed 39 miles an hour. At 74 miles an hour, it’s a hurricane.
How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms
Forecasters regularly talk about parts of the storm like the eye, the eyewall and the wall cloud:
The eye of a storm is the circular area of relatively light winds, even shining sun, at its center. Conditions may be calm within the eye.
But wrapped around it is the eyewall, a ring of cumulonimbus clouds also known as a wall cloud. It contains the strongest winds of a hurricane.
How to Decode Hurricane Season Terms
Perhaps counterintuitively, a storm doesn’t make landfall when its outer edge meets land.
Instead, landfall is when the eye crosses the shoreline.
Larry, which formed on Sept. 1, strengthened to a Category 3 storm two days later. It weakened to a Category 1 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 80 m.p.h. Larry passed Bermuda on Thursday but had otherwise posed little threat to land.
Although the hurricane was well east of the United States early Friday afternoon, large swells generated by the storm threatened to cause dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.
It has been a dizzying few weeks for meteorologists who have monitored several named storms that formed in quick succession, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to parts of the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Tropical Storm Mindy hit the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday night, just hours after it formed in the Gulf of Mexico. It was downgraded to a tropical depression on Thursday but brought heavy rain to parts of the Southeastern United States before moving into the Atlantic Ocean.
Ida battered Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29 before its remnants brought deadly flooding to the New York area. Two other tropical storms, Julian and Kate, both fizzled out within a day.
In mid-August, Tropical Storm Fred made landfall in the Florida Panhandle and Hurricane Grace hit Haiti and Mexico. Tropical Storm Henri knocked out power and brought record rainfall to the Northeastern United States on Aug. 22.
The quick succession of named storms might make it seem as if the Atlantic were spinning them up like a fast-paced conveyor belt, but their formation coincides with the peak of hurricane season.
The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms. But the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.
Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than it would have without the human effects on climate. Rising sea levels are also contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.
Ana became the first named storm of the season on May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the hurricane season on June 1.
In May, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, including three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic.
NOAA updated its forecast in early August, predicting 15 to 21 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, by the end of the season on Nov. 30.
Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, forcing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.
It was the most named storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and the second-highest number of hurricanes.
Reporting was contributed by Louis Lucero II, Eduardo Medina, Christopher Mele, Azi Paybarah, Chris Stanford, Isabella Grullón Paz, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Alyssa Lukpat.
STATELINE, Nev. — From the casino where she works, Nathalia Bonifacio watched the world flee. Thousands of tourists, homeowners and workers who keep the economy humming along Lake Tahoe streamed out of town in the last two weeks as a wildfire roared closer through the Sierra Nevada.
But not her.
Where could she run to? Ms. Bonifacio, 21, a college student from the Dominican Republic, had landed in the United States three months earlier to work at one of the high-rise casinos that flank the Nevada shoreline of the mountain lake. She had no family here. She could not afford a hotel room in the nearby towns, jammed with more than 20,000 evacuees.
So as ash from the Caldor fire snowed on Lake Tahoe, Ms. Bonifacio and a handful of other workers stayed behind. They have since become an unsung pit crew working the country’s highest-priority wildfire, feeding and refueling thousands of firefighters arriving here to battle a blaze the size of Dallas.
Eight miles from charred front lines of the fire, a cluster of Vegas-style hotels on the California-Nevada border has morphed into a base camp for emergency workers. With boutique hotels and alpine lodges shuttered on the California side of the border, fire trucks now occupy valet parking spots in the Nevada-side casinos. Exhausted fire crews accustomed to camping in the woods trundle takeout pizza up to their rooms.
While hundreds of hotel employees joined the mass evacuation from Tahoe, skeleton staff who decided to stay now serve quesadillas and iced coffee to hundreds of emergency responders filling the rooms. They check in guests and pick up trash. They send up clean sheets and towels to replace linens suffused with ash. They endure the smoke wafting through the hallways like some phantom guest.
“It’s a disaster,” said Ms. Bonifacio, whose asthma is aggravated by the smoky air.
Some of the remaining staff are managers and lifelong residents from Tahoe and surrounding towns. Others are immigrants from Southeast Asia and Latin American college students on temporary visas who come to do the unglamorous work of washing dishes and changing sheets.
Between shifts, the remaining workers gaze out the window as smoke strangles the lake’s diamond waters. They trade rumors about how the fire might have started (its cause is still being investigated) and reassure anxious relatives back home that they are not in danger.
Bored after nearly a week indoors, they kill time watching movies, chatting with friends on WhatsApp and roaming the carpeted casino floors where slot machines glow idly and brassy Rat Pack tunes play on a loop for nobody.
The signs thanking firefighters in people’s yards around Tahoe do not mention the backstage support from workers like Ms. Bonifacio. But she and others who stayed said the past week stuck in a fire zone had made their workaday routines more meaningful.
“Rescuers, firefighters, police — we’re helping these people,” said Odan Maria, a Dominican college student who works as a dishwasher.
Not that it has been easy.
The smoke stings their eyes, and Ms. Bonifacio said she has barely been outside over the past week as firefighters raced to herd the fire away from the cabins and condos and businesses around the lake.
Firefighters have made steady progress containing the fire with the help of lighter winds, and on Sunday night, lifted evacuation orders for South Lake Tahoe. The fire, which has destroyed nearly 700 homes, had been 44 percent contained by Sunday evening, Cal Fire reported.
Ms. Bonifacio had never lived through a wildfire when she joined dozens of other young Dominicans who signed up to spend a summer beside Lake Tahoe as part of a temporary work program. She was eager to earn $14 an hour, money she was saving for medical school and to send back to her family.
Last Monday, as the blaze charged toward the largest towns beside Lake Tahoe, she decided not to board the buses whisking other hotel employees out of town.
Ms. Bonifacio and a few Dominican friends threw everything they owned into suitcases and retreated from their apartments to the hotels where they work as dishwashers, cleaners, cashiers and delivery workers. The casino hotels were not shutting down, and offered free rooms to workers who stayed on.
On the ground floor of the Montbleu Resort Casino, Ulycees Beltran spent another evening taking dinner orders from firefighters coming off the line. In a town where people once enjoyed flights of microbrew and Dungeness crab sandwiches after days paddle boarding in the lake, Mr. Beltran’s half-priced menu of nachos and burgers now represented the beginning and end of Tahoe’s culinary scene.
His husband and two dogs fled to Los Angeles, but Mr. Beltran decided to stay. He was powerless to control whether the fire swarmed through South Lake Tahoe and destroyed the home he had bought 15 years ago, but he could at least slip on his black face mask and feed people.
“We cannot go anywhere, but at least we can come in and help,” he said. “I’m OK and my family’s OK. They’re safe. I’m working.”
Tim Tretton, the general manager at the MontBleu, said the hotel was fulfilling “our obligation to serve those who are protecting our community.” Across the street at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the staff has organized movie nights and delivered food to evacuees outside the fire zone, said Eric Barbaro, the hotel’s marketing director.
“There hasn’t been a day off,” he said.
Nearly every business along U.S. 50, the main road through South Lake Tahoe has been locked and dark for more than a week. Red NO VACANCY lights hummed outside empty motels one recent morning.
And then there was American Gasoline, where Stefka Dimitrova was rushing to unload a shipment of diesel canisters. Ms. Dimitrova said she had emigrated from Bulgaria decades earlier in a time of economic turmoil, and refused to flee the mountain home and gas station she had owned for nearly 20 years in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. When the fire swept through, she turned on her sprinklers and started sleeping in a trailer just beside the gas pumps.
“What happens if somebody drives by and needs gas?” she asked. “Everybody needs help.”
She is doing a brisk business in beef jerky, chewing tobacco and cold coffee, and the out-of-town firefighters, unaccustomed to Tahoe’s chilly nights, are snapping up knit hats. Everyone wants gas and fuel for their generators.
On Friday morning, as Ms. Dimitrova set out a pot of coffee, George Sandoval, a privately employed firefighter, pulled up on his way to clear brush around homes.
“Most of them don’t know I’m open,” Ms. Dimitrova said.
On the 15th floor of her hotel, Ms. Bonifacio and three friends are sharing a two-bedroom and wondering the same question as the thousands who fled: When will all this be over.
Though they are still getting paid, the banks are shut down and they cannot send money home. Ms. Bonifacio has been getting anxious about finding a ride to Reno for her return flight on Sept. 11. She has yet to visit a government office and fill out the paperwork to arrange another summer’s work.
“We’ve lost so much time,” she said. “Maybe next year it’ll be different.”
Divers searching for the origin of a substantial oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — one of several spotted off Louisiana’s coast after Hurricane Ida — have discovered three damaged pipelines near the leak, though murky conditions on the seafloor prevented the team from finding the source.
The Gulf of Mexico is covered with a tangle of pipes, wells and other energy infrastructure, much of it no longer used, as a result of generations of oil extraction there.
Late on Sunday, Talos Energy, the oil and gas producer that had been tasked with the cleanup, said that it did not own the three damaged pipelines. The Coast Guard had previously said the spill was thought to be coming from an old pipeline used by Talos, the former holder of offshore leases in the area. The Houston-based company had been conducting an intense cleanup involving a lift boat and other vessels.
The New York Times examined pipeline permits for the area and identified at least nine pipeline segments operated by seven oil and gas producers within a three-kilometer (1.8-mile) radius of the observed origin of the leak. Some of the pipelines were abandoned years ago.
The Times first reported on the spill and cleanup effort on Friday. Here’s what we know about the disaster so far:
Where is the oil coming from?
In its Sunday statement, Talos Energy said it was not responsible for the leak off the coast of Port Fourchon in Louisiana. Instead, the company said its divers had found a broken 12-inch pipeline, not owned by Talos, that appeared to have been displaced from its original location. There were also two smaller abandoned pipelines in the area, the company said.
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Talos ceased production in the area in 2017. The company said its divers and sonar scans had confirmed that its wells had been plugged and its pipelines removed.
The company was moving a lift boat closer to the leak so that the divers could more easily reach the site and confirm the source, a person with direct knowledge of the cleanup but who was not authorized to speak about the efforts publicly, said.
Lt. John Edwards of the U.S. Coast Guard said the agency had been notified of the divers’ findings. He said the original source of the discharge was unknown.
What’s the status of the spill?
The rate of oil reaching the surface has “slowed dramatically” in the past 48 hours, and no new heavy black crude oil has been seen in the past day, Talos said.
Lieutenant Edwards said the sheen in the area appeared to be dissipating. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, however, has reported a flurry of potential spills in a nearby area, as well as across the Gulf.
The Coast Guard continued to monitor the cleanup and efforts to mitigate any threats to the environment in the storm’s aftermath, Lieutenant Edwards said.
Do other pipelines lie close to the spill site?
At least nine pipeline segments, both in service and abandoned, lie near the leak site.
The data shows that oil and gas operators Cantium, Cox Oil and Cox subsidiary Energy XXI GOM each operate six-inch pipelines near the leak. Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, the Williams Companies subsidiary Discovery Gas Transmission and the privately held Kinetica Partners also operate or have operated pipelines in the area, the data shows.
The companies didn’t respond to requests for comment on Monday.
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of the pipeline giant Kinder Morgan, operated a 12-inch pipeline in the area, permits show. But Katherine Hill, a spokeswoman for Tennessee Gas Pipeline, said the company transports only natural gas and that there was no indication of a release in the area.
A global network of activists called on Tuesday for international climate talks scheduled for November in Scotland to be postponed, arguing that delegates from the most vulnerable nations would not be able to attend because of the pandemic.
The Climate Action Network said in a statement that travel restrictions, surging coronavirus caseloads and low vaccination levels across the world’s poorer countries would make it impossible for many representatives to attend the annual conference, organized by the United Nations and known as COP-26.
An in-person gathering would exclude government officials, activists and others from countries that are on the United Kingdom’s “red list,” meaning they are barred from entry to Scotland unless they are U.K. citizens or residents.
“There has always been an inherent power imbalance between rich and poor nations within the U.N. climate talks and this is now compounded by the health crisis,” the group’s executive director, Tasneem Essop, said in the statement.
The group, which includes more than 1,500 civil-society organizations worldwide, said that a shortage of vaccines in much of the developing world amounts effectively to a travel ban on citizens of those countries. While nearly 59 percent of people in the European Union have been fully vaccinated, and 52 percent in the United States, the figure stands at only 3 percent in Africa.
Organizers of the climate talks have promised to speed vaccines to delegates, but the Climate Action Network said that no shots had been administered so far, and that officials had not clarified whether attendees would be subjected to hotel quarantines that could be prohibitively expensive for civil society groups and representatives of poorer governments.
If the conference goes ahead as planned, “I fear it is only the rich countries and N.G.O.s from those countries that would be able to attend,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a research institute in Kenya.
The talks — which were canceled last November because of the pandemic — are formally known as the Conference of the Parties, and include representatives of the countries that signed the U.N. pact to fight climate change. At or before the meeting, scheduled from Nov. 1 to Nov. 12, countries are expected to announce how they plan to strengthen their climate action targets.
In April, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, said that she would not attend this year’s talks unless all participants could be vaccinated equally.
The record rainfall from Hurricane Ida appeared to damage every home on one block in Queens, where some families had lived for decades.
By Chelsia Rose Marcius and Benjamin Norman
The sun beat down on homeowners along 153rd Street in Queens as they hauled waterlogged bags of rubbish out to the curb and placed them alongside heaps of splintered tables, stained mattresses and other vestiges of their lives before the flood.
It was less than 48 hours after the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through New York City, bringing rushing water that had risen to over six feet, engulfing basements and sluicing through upper floors. Neighbors on the block in Flushing — a stretch surrounded by Kissena Park — had fallen into a quiet, steady rhythm of removing their most treasured belongings and tossing them into the trash on Friday.
Marco Velasco, 51, leafed through a soaked, leather-bound Bible, a present his wife received when the couple purchased their home in 2006.
“Everything is damaged. Everything is ruined,” Mr. Velasco said. “I lost everything in 10 minutes.”
The record rainfall throughout the Northeast on Wednesday left more than 40 people dead in four states. The toll was especially hard on New Jersey, where at least 25 people died — a third of them in their cars — and on this swath of Queens, which accounted for the majority of New York City’s 13 deaths. President Biden was scheduled to visit Queens and Manville, New Jersey, on Tuesday, the White House announced on Saturday.
In Queens, people cried for help, unable to escape as their basement apartments filled up with water. The dead included three people who lived in a basement apartment on Peck Avenue, around the corner from 153rd Street.
Many of the residents who survived the nighttime torrent have been left with little to nothing. Sanitation crews said the storm appeared to hit every single home on this block of 153rd Street.
The area, about half a mile from the Long Island Expressway, has attracted families with roots in various parts of the world, from China to Italy to Ecuador. On Friday, most residents spoke quietly to one another in Mandarin, Spanish or English as they worked to clear out the wreckage.
On the east side of the street, there are 10 two-story homes, a set of similar structures built in the mid-1920s, each with a shingle roof that rises to a peak. On the west side of the block are 22 two-family homes, all red brick, built in the mid-1950s.
Many families had poured everything they had into buying or maintaining their homes, now ravaged by the storm. The neighborhood and others nearby in Queens are some of the few remaining areas of the city where middle-class New Yorkers can still afford to own a home. But in this close-knit community on 153rd Street, families wondered whether they could ever manage to replace what Ida’s surging waters stripped from them in a single night.
“This was our first house,” said Joanna Velasco, Mr. Velasco’s wife, as she looked around the bones of her basement, where exposed electrical cords dangled from the ceiling. “Now we don’t know if we’re going to come back.”
The couple had spent well over $100,000 over 15 years to repair and beautify the place for their three sons, and later their three grandchildren. The Velascos had installed wood floors, painted the walls and replaced old appliances — a hefty financial investment that was washed away in a matter of moments.
“It was a lot of money,” said Ms. Velasco, 49. “I think about everything we did, everything for our kids.”
A manicurist, Ms. Velasco has been unemployed during the pandemic; Mr. Velasco works as an upholsterer.
“Where are we going to go?” she asked, shaking her head as she surveyed her living room, where several sopping wet photo albums with baby pictures of their sons lay nearby. “We don’t have clothes, we have nothing. We have no answers.”
A few doors down, Sunciya Vijayarajah stood on her stoop near piles of her children’s school papers, sodden bags of basmati rice and a large statue of an elephant, which had floated halfway down the block and required four men to retrieve.
“My daughter now has one dress. Just one dress,” said Ms. Vijayarajah, 42, as she sorted through damp clothes while members of her family continued to carry bags, bins and pieces of furniture out of the house. Ms. Vijayarajah, a homemaker, and her husband, Vijay Thangarajah, who works in construction, have three children, Vinecaiya, 17, Vinoja, 14, and Vanson, 9.
One of the few items that remained after the deluge was a framed snapshot of a beaming Ms. Vijayarajah next to Mr. Thangarajah, taken on their wedding day in 1998 in Sri Lanka, three years before the couple moved to the United States. Ms. Vijayarajah, then just 19 years old, her hair pulled back in an updo, wore a regal red and green sari with gold embellishments.
“My wedding sari is gone” said Ms. Vijayarajah as tears began to roll down her cheeks.
Five years ago, she moved her parents — Reetamma Thevathas and Thevathas Madutheen, both 67 — to Queens from Sri Lanka so that they would have a “good life.”
The older couple, standing near her on the stoop, wept as their daughter spoke. “Our dreams are lost,” Ms. Vijayarajah said.
Across the street, Joey Ferraro, 27, sat on the trunk of his black sedan, one of the dozens of vehicles on the block that were partially submerged for hours before the water receded.
The sedan was parked in the driveway of a red brick house, the home that has been in the Ferraro family since 1955. Mr. Ferraro and his older brother, Michael Ferraro, grew up in the house just like their late father. Michael Ferraro has a 1-year-old daughter, marking the fifth generation of the family to live there.
The brothers — Michael works as a barista at Starbucks and Joey works as a glazier — said they had spent about $120,000 in renovations that they completed in February 2020. On Friday, the once pristine home, with its white shaker cabinets and white marble tile, was caked in a layer of dark sludge. On the bathroom floor lay a muddied cross made of dried palm leaves.
Only a few items from the first floor of the house could be salvaged: a small white christening coat that both brothers wore as babies; the ashes of Joey Ferraro’s pit bull, Spanky; and a ceramic 1974 blue, white and gold beer stein from Delehanty High School, their father’s alma mater.
“It’s my family’s home, and it’s my childhood home,” said Michael Ferraro, 28. “I have all my childhood memories here. This is where we grew up, this is where my father grew up, this is where my grandparents lived. If we moved here 10 years ago, it would be different.”
“We’re the last two left,” he added. “I’m the sentimental one. But I don’t want to stay for that reason. So the question is: Do we want to stay, or do we want to go somewhere else and start brand new?”
As the sun began to wane, Marco and Joanna Velasco headed to the Anchor Inn in Bayside, Queens, where their two sons, Allen, 22, and Matthew, 12, were waiting in a small room that the American Red Cross had reserved for them. Mr. Velasco’s 80-year-old mother, Nelly Velasco, sat in the back seat of their SUV.
Ms. Velasco spoke her worries aloud: When would the gas be turned back on? Would the second plumber they hired be able to make the necessary fixes the first could not? Could they save their boiler, or would they have to dole out $1,700 to replace it? Would the insurance cover the damage? How would they pay the bills if it didn’t?
After pulling into the hotel parking lot, the Velascos crossed the street to pick up several bags of soda, roast chicken, rice, and macaroni and cheese. Then they settled into the room.
Ms. Velasco sat on one of the two queen beds, her hands folded in her lap, tired from two days of cleaning out the home they had worked so hard to build.
“At least we have food,” Ms. Velasco said with a sigh, before lifting her head and smiling at her sons. “Not everyone can afford to buy chicken.”
LAROSE, La. — After Hurricane Katrina, an ambitious and expensive system of levees, walls, storm gates and pumps was installed around New Orleans to protect against the kind of flooding and horror that so deeply scarred the city, and the nation, in 2005. And when Hurricane Ida hit last week, exactly 16 years later, those hopes were largely fulfilled. The flooding was minimal.
But 60 miles away, in the small community of Larose, the situation was different. In William Lowe’s neighborhood, storm surge from Ida overtopped a modest levee maintained by the Lafourche Parish government near his elevated house, sending water from a nearby canal up over his floorboards. Days later, his neighborhood was still waterlogged, and he and his family were getting to and from the house by boat.
“You’ve got lives destroyed down here,” said Mr. Lowe, 49, choking back tears. “You go to the Dollar General, you’ve got people standing outside bawling, because they’ve got nothing.”
In the working-class bayou country south and west of New Orleans, local government officials have been trying for decades to secure federal funding for a system similar to the one in New Orleans, to little avail.
And as Ida moved north, bringing more death and destruction to places like New York City, advocates for the project in coastal Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes were left to wonder about its fate at a time when bigger and better-known places are ever-more-likely to be competing for storm protection funding.
As sea levels rise and a warming ocean brings more fearsome storms, the fight over hurricane protection in Southern Louisiana is only the latest example of a growing dilemma for the United States: which places to try to save, and how to decide.
Until recently, that question may have seemed like the plot of a dystopian movie, or at least a problem to leave for future generations. But as disasters become more severe, the cost of rebuilding has skyrocketed. Extreme weather has caused more than $450 billion in damage nationwide since 2005; the number of disasters causing more than $1 billion in damage reached 22 last year, a record.
The Government Accountability Office has warned those costs may be unsustainable. Yet the demand keeps increasing: When the Federal Emergency Management Agency introduced a new program to help cities and states prepare for disasters, the requests far outstripped the amount of money available.
The increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes poses another dilemma: Even if the money could be found for projects to protect places like Larose, are such efforts a good way to spend public money, especially as the need for climate resilience around the country is growing and coastlines disappear further every year?
“A lot of these places aren’t going to be around that much longer,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor at Tulane University who focuses on how to adapt to climate change. As worsening disasters push more people to leave those towns, he said, the number of people who stand to benefit from storm-protection systems declines, making those systems harder to justify.
“It’s going to be hard for a lot of those projects to pencil out,” Dr. Keenan said.
Officials in Louisiana, a state still suffering from the repeated drubbings meted out by last year’s record storm season, do not see it that way. They argue that investing now in projects like the one in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes will save the federal government money in the long term by reducing the cost of cleanup, with fewer disaster relief claims filed by businesses and families, and fewer insurance claims under the National Flood Insurance Program.
It is a shift from a reactive stance to a proactive one, said Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District. Mr. Dupre said the government needed to shift its thinking fast on the Louisiana coast. Hurricane Ida devastated the buildings and infrastructure in his parish, mostly as a result of heavy wind. But if it had gone a few miles west, he said, the storm surge would have also taken many lives.
“We don’t want to wait,” Mr. Dupre said. “We don’t want to have body bags all over the place.”
The project, known as Morganza to the Gulf, is designed, advocates say, to protect 250,000 people against flooding. But unlike the New Orleans system, the Morganza system has yet to get significant federal money, despite first being approved by Congress in 1992. Local officials have already spent nearly $1 billion building portions of it, in anticipation that the federal government will eventually provide its promised $2 billion share of the cost.
The levee system received its first $12.5 million in federal funding this year after years of discussion over how much it would cost versus how many people it would benefit.
“I don’t really believe that people understand how many people live down there,” said State Representative Tanner Magee, who represents Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes.
He said people outside of the area also don’t understand how much of the nation’s oil — almost one-fifth — is refined in the state, much of it along the coast.
“It’s a working coast, it’s not like it’s some beach town in Florida,” Mr. Magee said.
Those who have been living for years without protection in Southern Louisiana have understood for a while that they are on the wrong side of the cost-benefit equation.
“It’s the same scenario year after year after year,” said Michael Jiles, a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Plaquemines Parish and the former director of public services for the parish.
The locally funded levees are not enough to protect Mr. Jiles’s neighborhood and the surrounding areas, where residents see their homes flood again and again.
It is no mystery to Mr. Jiles why his neighborhood has not received the same protections as New Orleans to the north, or the neighboring parish of St. Bernard, which is protected by a flood wall.
“Population and economic power,” he said, adding that in his part of Plaquemines Parish, on the east side of the Mississippi River, many residents live below the poverty level.
Garret Graves, a Republican congressman from Louisiana, said the federal government’s approach to funding protection projects after Katrina was to “really focus on the population centers.” Most of Plaquemines lacked the population density to rank high on that scale.
And there was an incentive to protect New Orleans, Mr. Graves said. As residents decided whether to rebuild or move, the federal government approved the hurricane protection system as a way to persuade them to stay.
“The White House really felt an obligation to make it clear to people that there wasn’t going to be a Katrina Version 2,” Mr. Graves said. He said Ida might push the federal government to fund similar projects outside that system.
The contrast between the two Louisianas — inside and outside the protection system — is stark. Just after Hurricane Isaac in 2012, Mr. Jiles took a break from cleaning out his waterlogged house to stand on the levee separating Plaquemines, submerged in several feet of flood water, from neighboring St. Bernard Parish, which was dry.
Standing on the levee, Mr. Jiles recalled, he could “see both worlds.”
Without adequate protection, the community will not survive, Mr. Jiles said. People began leaving the area after Hurricane Katrina, promising to return if the levees were raised. With every storm, more people left.
“Gradually it’s going to be eliminated,” Mr. Jiles said.
The same is happening in other coastal parishes, said David Muth, director of gulf restoration at the National Wildlife Federation.
“The numbers speak for themselves: People are voting with their feet about where they want to live,” Mr. Muth said. The cycle is self-perpetuating: As more people leave, “it becomes harder and harder to justify massive investments in storm risk reduction,” he said.
‘We have to be realistic’
The state has acknowledged that not every community can be saved.
In 2016, officials began the process of relocating the residents of Isle de Jean Charles, a village in southern Terrebonne Parish that has lost most of its land to rising seas and erosion. Using a $48 million grant from the Obama administration, the state is building a new site for the village, called The New Isle, some 30 miles to the north.
The project is the first federally funded relocation project in response to climate change, and was designed to be a model for other communities to follow. The effort has not always gone smoothly. But the first residents could move in as soon as December, according to Marvin McGraw, a spokesman for the state.
And two years ago, Louisiana released a sweeping blueprint for its coastal communities, which envisioned the government paying some people who live outside federal levees to move further inland. That strategy also called for new investments in cities further from the coast, to better prepare those cities for an infusion of new residents.
“We have to be realistic about the current and future effects of coastal land loss and plan today to develop Louisiana’s next generation of communities,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at the time.
Whether the right solution is building more protection or paying for people to move, the communities in coastal Louisiana deserve help, even if that assistance doesn’t meet strict cost-to-benefit ratios, said Andy Horowitz, a history professor at Tulane who wrote a book about Katrina.
“We might think instead about our values as a country,” Dr. Horowitz said. “We can build public works that protect people. We can support them in a humane way to move somewhere safer. Or we can leave them to suffer and die.”
A collection of leading health and medical journals called this week for swift action to combat climate change, calling on governments to cooperate and invest in the environmental crisis with the degree of funding and urgency they used to confront the coronavirus pandemic.
In an editorial published in more than 200 medical and health journals worldwide, the authors declared a 1.5-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures the “greatest threat to global public health.” The world is on track to warm by around 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100, based on current policies.
“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the preindustrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, no temperature rise is ‘safe.’”
Although medical journals have copublished editorials in the past, this marked the first time that publication has been coordinated at this scale. In total more than 200 journals representing every continent and a wide range of medical and health disciplines from ophthalmology to veterinary medicine published the statement. The authors are editors of leading journals including The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine.
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In the editorial, they raised concerns not only about the direct health consequences of rising temperatures, including heat-related mortality, pregnancy complications and cardiovascular disease, but also the indirect costs, including the effects that soil depletion could have on malnutrition and the possibility that widespread destruction of habitats could increase the likelihood of future pandemics.
The editorial urged wealthy countries to go beyond their targets and commit to emissions reductions that are commensurate with their cumulative, historic emissions. It also called on them to go beyond their stated goals of $100 billion for climate resiliency plans in developing nations, including funding for improving health systems.
“While low and middle income countries have historically contributed less to climate change, they bear an inordinate burden of the adverse effects, including on health,” said Dr. Lukoye Atwoli, the editor in chief of the East African Medical Journal and one of the co-authors of the editorial, in a statement. “We therefore call for equitable contributions whereby the world’s wealthier countries do more to offset the impact of their actions on the climate.”
Sue Turale, the editor in chief of the International Nursing Review and a co-author of the editorial, said in a statement, “As our planet faces disasters from climate change and rising global temperature, health professionals everywhere have a moral responsibility to act to avoid this.”
The publication comes ahead of a busy few months of climate and environmental conferences. The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to meet this month in New York City, the U.N.’s biodiversity summit will meet in October in Kunming, China, and the U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP, in Glasgow in November.
A growing body of research has shown that extreme weather events worsened by climate change are contributing to a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Earlier this year a study found that around a third of heat-related deaths worldwide could be attributed to the extra warming associated with climate change. And this summer, hundreds of Americans have died in extreme weather events, including more than 600 during the weeklong record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest that climate scientists say would have been “virtually impossible without climate change.”