While the city continues to investigate the cause of the raw sewage back-up that spilled into dozens of Queens homes over the weekend, residents are trying to clean up their basements, which have been contaminated by feces and other matter.
Some people are staying in their homes, in spite of the stench. Those residents are worried about leaving their homes unlocked while the Department of Environmental Protection is pumping sewage out. The local police precinct even asked for donations of cleaning supplies:
A sewage pipe near 33rd Avenue and Inwood Street that typically directs materials to the Jamaica Wastewater Treatment Plant became blocked on Saturday. The basements of at least 74 homes were flooded with sewage. DEP set up a "bypass operation" to help carry sewage to the treatment plant while the main is still clogged; the DEP says no backups have been reported since the bypass was activated on Monday. (Some unlucky homeowners suffered a second backup on Sunday; one said, "I smelled something bad again and I went downstairs and saw the water, one foot to 15 inches.")
Residents complained that their 311 calls early Saturday morning went ignored until hours later. Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted during a Monday press conference, "I think we obviously need people to know that that's not acceptable. Even if a few hours went by and the response was not what it could have been, that's not acceptable to me, that’s not acceptable to my colleagues in government."
The backup during the Thanksgiving weekend also happened while some people weren't at home. One woman, who was in Massachusetts at the time, called a friend to rescue her four pets. Jennifer Mendez explained to WABC 7 that the friend broke down the front door, and pointed to her tiny dog, "This little one was up against gate, and she was going underneath the water. We got what was irreplaceable. These are our babies."
Homeowners were also furious at the DEP's initial statements suggesting that cooking grease caused the chaos. (The DEP had noted that while they didn't know the cause of this sewage backup, "Fat, oil, and grease are the number one cause of sewer back-ups in the city.”) "They said it was our frying and our fried chicken that caused the backup, but we eat healthy. We don’t eat stuff like that," Aracelia Cook told the Daily News.
Many have pointed to the development of hotels in the area, near JFK Airport, as a possible contributor to the clogged pipe. The mayor also walked back the grease-as-culprit theory on Monday, "We're not trying to blame the victim here. We don't know the exact cause of it is the fact. So, if anyone said that they did not represent the view of New York City, and I certainly want to apologize if that impression was given."
Edward Timbers, a DEP spokesman, said on Tuesday, "Excavation to that deep sewer"—which is 40 feet below ground—"is just getting underway and a cause cannot be confirmed until we get crews into the sewer."
A GoFundMe campaign, apparently started by the friend of a homeowner, shows disgusting photographs of what was in the basement, noting, "The [cleanup] bill is estimated to be $7-10 a square foot, and is going to run in the thousands of dollars."
State Senator James Sanders told his constituents, "Residents impacted by the flooding should file a claim with their insurance company and the Comptroller’s Office to cover any damage from the sewage. The city has set up an emergency center at the Courtyard Marriott, 145-11 North Conduit Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11436, to provide affected residents with resources." His office also has a limited number of cleaning supplies.