Murphy defends ‘loud and clear’ warnings issued for New Jersey ahead of deadly storms

People attempting to cross a partially flooded street in Somerville, New Jersey on Thursday | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AP Photo

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Sunday that his administration “shouted loudly” ahead of last week’s unprecedented and deadly rains, but admitted the state needed to “tighten” its warnings.

The comments during an appearance on CBS ‘Face the Nation came as the governor wondered whether his government had issued a strong warning of the danger of flash floods awaiting the remnants of Hurricane Ida. In New Jersey, at least 27 people died during Wednesday’s storms, mainly if not completely from flooding of homes and streets. At least four people remain missing.

“We want to make sure that when people hear these warnings, they take them as seriously as we mean them,” Murphy said. “And, God willing, we will be able to sharpen this in the future too.”

The National Weather Service warned of the potential for tornadoes and flash floods in the days leading up to the storms, although parts of New Jersey exceeded forecasts as some areas fell as much as 10 inches in a matter of hours. At a press conference Wednesday morning, the governor advised people to “just stay if you can” for the next 12 to 15 hours, but no official measures taken to block roads.

The governor declared a state of emergency at 9 p.m. Wednesday; his office sent a notice to the press an hour later.

Tornadoes swept parts of South Jersey but did not kill anyone. Instead, people died from flooding in the northern and central parts of the state, suggesting that some local residents may not have understood or responded strongly enough to the danger of rain.

After the storms, the governor said, “We still had too many cars on the road.”

Climate scientists say that heavy rain events will become more intense and their risk will increase as the climate continues to warm.

In the short term, the Biden government is doing everything possible to help New Jersey, Murphy said in advance a visit by the President to the state on Tuesday.

But in the long run, Murphy, who campaigned for a climate-friendly clean energy plan for the governor, worried about Congress, which has repeatedly refused to legislate on climate change. The governor said on CBS that he is concerned that federal lawmakers will not pass infrastructure laws that will help states prepare for a future with more extreme weather conditions.

“It would be an example of America failing to hit the moment,” Murphy said.

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