A hero was born on the Long Island Expressway last night, near exit 25 to Utopia Parkway. Like much of the city, the boulevard was overwhelmed by a heavy storm during the evening commute, leaving drivers at a standstill for miles on end.
That's when a 50-year-old photographer from Williamsburg, Daphne Youree, took matters into her own hands. Trudging through the floodwaters, she single-handedly unclogged several sewer grates with a traffic cone, as her fellow New Yorkers watched in... awe? Revulsion? Stoic gratitude? Maybe all of the above.
Afterward, the good samaritan took to Twitter to share news of the drainage feat with city officials. In response to a warning from the Emergency Management Department of severe flooding along Francis Lewis Boulevard, Youree responded, "Guess what. I cleared it!" Shortly after, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson thanked her for being a "Great New Yorker!"
Earlier this morning, we spoke by phone with Youree about her triumphant and lonesome battle to clear the LIE.
Hi. How did this happen?
I was coming from Long Island with my kid and my cat. I’d just picked up my cat from a procedure. Then at Exit 25 I pulled over because I saw all these cars getting stuck.
Everyone kind of realized at the same time that it was crazy and we all pulled over. I was like there is absolutely no way I’m destroying my car today. When I got out I saw a bunch of guys standing around talking about how someone needs to go do something. Someone suggested we see how deep it was. But no one wanted to do it. So I volunteered.
No one else offered to help?
My kid wanted to help. Everyone else was cheering me on or just standing there watching. There were people above me on the [overpass]. Even the cops were standing around. One of them said, ‘Oh, you could be careful.’ I was like, ‘Maybe you should do something!’
You seem to be wearing sandals in the video.
Crocs! The best—they stayed on.
So you walk into the highway flood in your Crocs. What happens next?
Someone else had suggested that we should probably clear the grate, but no one had any ideas how to do it. I went and picked up an orange cone. I cleared three grates. People were all standing around and filming me, clapping.
Tell me about the water. How deep was it? How did it smell?
It was filled with dirt. The rain water flooded all of the dirt into the road. It didn’t really smell bad, just rain water with pieces of wood and dirt in it—that was what was clogging the drain. So when I unclogged it, it cleared pretty quickly. At deepest it went above my knees.
Maybe they need to have a different kind of drainage. The highway was backed up for miles. The eastbound side didn’t move because no one was clearing the grate.
Have you done any other rogue maintenance work before?
No, but I would do it again. I’m a proactive person. It wasn’t even a question, when I realized there was something I could do, I realized I would do it.
What’s the reaction been like to your video? Are people impressed or grossed out?
People are calling me the Highway Hero. The best thing I heard was someone said I had better legs than all the highway workers. A lot of people are telling me I should run for mayor.
There might be an opening.
I’m thinking about it. I have a background fighting against charter schools, I’m an activist, very committed to renewable energy. Maybe it’ll happen.
— Daphne Youree (@DaphneYouree) July 23, 2019
Would you say you learned anything from this experience?
I love moments like this where people do things—well, even though I was the one doing it—where people get together. It’s not everyday you get to see your fellow highway riders clapping. People weren’t screaming and yelling. Everyone was calm. There was some teamwork to it.
That seems generous, considering you were the one up to your knees in flood water—
They weren’t clearing the highway, no. But I don’t think most people want to go into something like that. It's really understandable. I don’t blame them.
What’s next for you? Are you available if we see some more flooding later today?
I need to get a tetanus shot. Definitely going to get myself checked out today.