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

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Sunday that his administration “screamed loud and clear” ahead of last week’s unprecedented and deadly rainstorms, but acknowledged the state needs to “sharpen” its warnings.

The comments, during an appearance on CBS' “Face the Nation,” came as the governor faces questions about whether his administration gave forceful advanced warning about the danger of flash floods that were expected from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. In New Jersey, at least 27 people died during Wednesday’s storms, mostly, if not entirely, from flooding of homes and roadways. At least four people remain missing.

“We want to make sure that folks, when they hear these warnings … that they take them as seriously as we mean them,” Murphy said. “And, God willing, we’ll be able to sharpen that as well going forward.”

The National Weather Service warned of the potential for tornadoes and flash flooding in the days leading up to the storms, though in parts of New Jersey, rainfall exceeded forecasts as some areas got up to 10 inches of rain in a matter of hours. At a Wednesday morning press conference, the governor advised people to “just stay in if you can” over the coming 12 to 15 hours, but took no official action to close roads.

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

Tornadoes swept through parts of South Jersey but killed no one. People instead died in the northern and central parts of the state from flooding, suggesting that some residents may not have understood or reacted strongly enough to the risk of rain.

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

Climate scientists say heavy rain events are becoming more intense and their risk will worsen as the climate continues to warm.

In the near term, the Biden administration is doing everything it can to help New Jersey, Murphy said ahead of a visit from the president to the state on Tuesday.

But, in the long term, Murphy — who campaigned for governor on a climate-friendly clean energy plan — worried about Congress, which has repeatedly declined to enact climate change legislation. The governor said on CBS that he‘s worried federal lawmakers will fail to pass infrastructure bills that help states prepare for a future with more extreme weather.

“It would be an example of where America did not meet the moment,” Murphy said.

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