Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo got himself into hot water when he said if you died from COVID-19, it’s your own fault. Now, one of Cuomo’s biggest admirers, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy similarly said this week, if you died during Tropical Storm Ida’s flash flooding, it’s your own fault because you didn’t listen to his warning.
Governor Murphy said his office did all it could to warn people of impending flash flooding, but did it? Ahead of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, police literally went door to door along the shore, with bullhorns in the streets telling people to evacuate. OEM services were activated days before landfall. Everyone knew what was coming. If you stayed, you paid. It was an acceptable stance given the sheer volume of warning and opportunity given to residents along the Jersey Shore. 40 people died in a storm that destroyed the Jersey Shore and the Jersey waterfront from Cape May to the Hudson River. 27 New Jerseyans died during Tropical Storm Ida.
Ahead of Ida, New Jersey got a press conference and a few alerts on their phone. There’s was no state coordinated mass evacuation effort. There was no local effort to warn people who might have missed Murphy’s daily press conference or are so jaded by the sheer amount of false alarms in the past ringing their phone that they didn’t take it seriously.
How does a tropical storm in New Jersey have a bigger death toll than when it struck Louisiana as a category 4 hurricane? Just 13 people died as the storm made landfall after a state coordinated mass evacuation.
Murphy went into defense mode instead, blamed the people of New Jersey for not heeding the warning. He even said the people of New Jersey who were caught in the floods should have been a little bit “sharper” in their decision-making process.
Although the CNN news ticker read, “Can northeast infastructure withstand more powerful storms?”, it should have read, “Can New Jersey infrastructure stand more forced overdevelopment by Democrats?”
When asked if the state should have issued warnings earlier, Murphy deflected. Tornado and flash flood warnings were sent just hours before the storm hit.
“I’m not sure about earlier. We were screaming out all day on Wednesday, I had a press conference, our emergency office functions were activated at noon,” Murphy said. “Tornado and flash flood warnings went out.”
The first flash flood and tornado warnings did not go out until 6:17 pm that night by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management. By then, rain had begun to fall and people were on their way home from work.
“As per US National Weather Service Philadelphia/Mount HollyTornado Warnings are forecast until 6:30 PM for several NJ counties,” NJ OEM said in their first message of the day.
At 9:02 pm, NJ OEM reported an NWS bulletin reporting severe flooding, leaving residents just three hours to prepare. By then, it was too late.
“Widespread severe flooding is ongoing late this evening across portions of southeast Pennsylvania and central/northern New Jersey. PLEASE do NOT drive into flooded roadways! Turn Around,” the OEM shared.
The Murphy administration it seem was caught offguard and unprepared for Ida. There were no evacuations, there was no mobilization of assets in advance of the storm by the state. In the end, people died because of it.
Now, Murphy says it was their own fault.
“We do have to look in the mirror on the flood warnings,” Murphy said. “I open to any good ideas, should they be sharper? Is it human nature that people said it’s water, I can deal with it.”
“Maybe next time they’ll take it more seriously,” the CNN host responded.
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