Storm Henri brings severe flooding to portions of tristate area

Storm Henri wasn't done with the tristate area yet. Rain continued to fall Monday in various locations from New Jersey, north and out to Long Island. A Flood Watch was in effect for the entire region.

The storm weakened into a tropical depression on Sunday night, as it crawled over the Northeast and unleashed downpours over a region already saturated by heavy rain and wind that knocked out power to over 100,000 homes and swamped roads, closed bridges and left people stranded in their vehicles.

"Henri weakening but still expected to produce heavy rainfall and flooding across portions of southern New England and the northern mid-Atlantic states through Monday," the National Hurricane Center said in a public advisory Sunday evening. 

The storm was downgraded from a hurricane before reaching New England, leaving many to breathe a sigh of relief. There were few early reports of major damage due to wind or surf.

"It is downgraded — that's good news. I don't want New Yorkers to say, 'Oh this is great, there's nothing to worry about,'" Outgoing Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a Sunday press conference. "There is plenty to worry about. First, those tracks can change and if that storm moves 40 miles west, we have a much different situation."

But the storm’s heavy, sustained rains raised concerns about flooding from the storm that threatened to stall over New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and other parts of New England before pivoting to the East and moving out to the Atlantic Ocean on Monday night. Some of the highest rain totals were expected inland. 

The National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Watch for the entire tristate area Monday.

President Joe Biden on Sunday promised to provide federal help as quickly as possible to the residents of northeastern states affected by Tropical Storm Henri. The president declared disasters in much of the region, opening the purse strings for federal recovery aid.

On Saturday, people evacuated popular beach communities and made last-minute runs on batteries and gasoline as Henri churned closer to Long Island and southern New England, while officials pleaded with the millions of people in the storm's path to brace themselves for torrential rain and storm surges. Millions of people prepared for flooding, toppled trees, and extended power outages.

Intense winds and potentially dangerous tidal surges were expected as far east as Cape Cod and as far west as the New Jersey shore, although the chances of severe effects in the Garden State were lowered.

Henri was expected to produce rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches over portions of Long Island, New England, southeast New York, and northeast Pennsylvania into Monday, with isolated maximum totals near 12 inches, according to NHC.

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The National Weather Service recorded what could be the wettest hour ever in Central Park, with 1.94 inches of torrential rainfall pelting the park between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday. Earlier in the evening, thousands attending a Homecoming concert at the park were forced to disperse because of heavy rainfall.

Some portions of central New Jersey were inundated with as much as 8 inches of rain by midday Sunday, causing severe flooding in some areas

"Heavy rainfall from Henri may result in considerable flash, urban, and small stream flooding, along with the potential for widespread minor to isolated moderate river flooding," NHC said. 

In Newark, Public Safety Director Brian O’Hara said police and firefighters rescued 86 people in 11 incidents related to the storm. He said "significant flooding" led to multiple vehicles submerged in flooded areas.

In a region where the ground in many areas is saturated from recent rains, the forecast had some fearing the worst effects of the rainfall were still to come.

Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency for Long Island, New York City, Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, and the Capital District on Saturday. At a briefing on Sunday, Cuomo said he had spoken to the president and thanked him for the pre-landfall emergency declaration.

Cuomo also warned that heavy rains were expected to create problems far up into the Hudson River Valley and the Catskills.

"In the Hudson Valley you have hills, you have creeks, the water comes running down those hills and turns a creek into a ravaging river. I have seen small towns in these mountainous areas devastated by rain. That is still a very real possibility," Cuomo said. 

The governor, who will leave office in two days following a sexual harassment scandal, urged people not to make bad choices and put themselves in places where they needed to be rescued.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also said he was declaring a State of Emergency in New York City in response to the storm. 

The state also deployed 500 National Guard members and 1,000 state police personnel to deal with the aftermath of the storm.

Service on the Long Island Rail Road east of Ronkonkoma and east of Patchogue was suspended around midnight.

"On Sunday, August 22, passenger train service will not resume until we have checked our infrastructure and determined that it is safe to do so," the MTA said.

The MTA also announced that it was suspending service on the Wassaic Branch of the Harlem Line and on the entire New Haven Line, including the New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury Branches. Service will operate every two hours on the Hudson and Harlem Lines.

Officials in Suffolk County issued a voluntary evacuation order for Fire Island, as the potentially dangerous storm makes its way north. 

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted that he had spoken with President Joe Biden and the governors of neighboring states. 

"We are watching the path of the storm carefully and preparing for high winds, heavy rain, and storm surge," Murphy said.

The National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, said a high risk of rip currents would continue along the coast Monday. 

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont warned Connecticut residents that they should prepare to "shelter in place"into Monday morning. 

"This storm is going to have a major impact on Connecticut, and I appreciate President Biden and FEMA for the measures they are taking to support our state in advance of the storm making landfall," Lamont said.

Utility companies were warning that the storm could knock out power, possibly for several days.

"We're preparing for tropical storm force winds and rain, which may reach the area Sunday and cause service problems," Con Edison said in an email to customers. "Con Edison has secured extra crews to respond to any outages or other service problems."

PSEG Long Island said crews prepared extra supplies.

"Given the potential intensity of the storm, some outages may last up to seven to 10 days," PSEG Long Island said in a news release. "The eastern end of Long Island is expected to experience the most severe weather and impact."

Coast Guard officials warned both commercial and recreational boaters to be aware of the dangers related to the storm and try to stay off the water. 

"The Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities degrade as storm conditions strengthen. This means help could be delayed," the Coast Guard said in an advisory. "Boaters should heed weather watches, warnings, and small craft advisories."

The Coast Guard also urged people to stay off the beach because of the danger from storm surges and rip currents.

"Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by tropical storms or hurricanes," the Coast Guard said. "Swimmers should stay clear of beaches until local lifeguards and law enforcement officials say the water is safe."

New York state park officials were building a wall of sand along the boardwalk at Jones Beach to protect it against surging tides, said George Gorman, the regional director for state parks on Long Island. The wall was being built with equipment procured in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which caused substantial damage to beaches that took months to reopen, he said.

New York City officials closed Cedar Grove Beach, Coney Island Beach, Manhattan Beach, Midland Beach, Orchard Beach, Rockaway Beach, South Beach, and Wolfe's Pond Beach to swimming and wading on Sunday and Monday.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.