By Vincent Cross
After leaving immense destruction in its wake in Louisiana, Hurricane Ida swung northwards as a tropical storm, hitting states across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic on September 1 and 2. Heavy rains provoked flash flooding which, due to a lack of proper preparation by the capitalist state and the poor condition of houses and apartments in working-class communities, resulted in dozens of deaths. In New York City, at least twelve people drowned in basement apartments.
The bulk of the damage was felt by New Jersey and New York, where 27 and 18 people died, respectively. Another 7 people were killed in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut, bringing the total of Ida-related deaths in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to 52, more than in any other region of the country.
Hundreds of thousands lost power along the East Coast, although the major damage and fatalities in the Northeast were associated with widespread flash flooding. In particular, predominantly Latino and Black working-class boroughs like Queens in New York City and cities such as Elizabeth, New Jersey accounted for majority of the deaths in the Northeast.
While rainfall dropped by Ida was rapid and severe, the deaths are due to the failures of the capitalist state. Government infrastructure showed a distinct lack of preparedness for flash flooding on a such a large scale, despite the fact that many scientists and experts have warned of the increased likelihood of destructive flash floods in the Northeast for years.
As Ida arrived, water was still on the ground from Hurricane Henri, which had hit the Mid-Atlantic and New England two weeks prior. This fact only worsened the flash flood conditions.
Many deaths, especially in New York City, were the direct result of the dangerous housing in which many working class people are forced to live in under capitalism. A majority of those who died in New York were working class families who drowned in their basement homes, which are some of the last ‘affordable’ housing options left in many northeastern metropolitan areas. In one instance, a family of three, including a two-year-old boy, all drowned together in a basement apartment in the neighborhood of Woodside in Queens.
Many basement apartments are technically illegal, and tenants rent in ‘off the books’ informal relationships with the landlord. In the wake of the drowning deaths, some housing advocates have called for the legalization of basement apartments so that city governments can provide “higher safety standards and periodic inspection.” Such reforms do not address the capitalist reality, which forces working class families to live in the cheapest and most dangerous housing available around the country, regardless of city codes or legality.
While severe storms have become more common in the Northeast, the majority of deaths and the slow pace of recovery from these disasters are not natural and caused directly by capitalist mismanagement of society.
There is no reason why anyone should be forced to live in a cramped, basement apartment, much less drown in one. Additionally, preparations and precautions for severe weather should not be left up to the indifferent capitalist ruling class, and ultimately they must be swept from power through revolution in order to build a society that does not cause such wanton death.
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