Several Queens residents who were exposed to raw sewage when floodwaters gushed into their homes during Tropical Storm Ida now say they’ve suffered diarrhea and vomiting, and at least one person had to be hospitalized.
Ivette Mayo’s home on 64th Street near 48th Avenue in Woodside took on five feet of water in the basement last Wednesday. As water poured in, she and her husband sloshed around downstairs, shutting down the house’s electricity and grabbing whatever family photographs they could salvage. Two days later, she started to feel ill, and by Sunday she couldn’t hold down water or Pedialyte, alternating between vomiting and diarrhea all day long.
“Sunday night was just a disaster. I was getting up every 15 minutes,” she said. Her husband took her to the hospital Monday morning where she was given fluids and supplements of magnesium and potassium. She was soon diagnosed with norovirus and e. Coli, she said, two highly contagious waterborne diseases. Mayo’s symptoms had improved by Tuesday.
Two other neighbors on her block suffered similar symptoms, though Mayo was the only one who needed to be hospitalized.
“At this point, I’m alive to complain,” said Julia Nieves, 77, Mayo’s neighbor who also had vomiting and diarrhea in the days after flood waters consumed her basement, destroying many of her most precious memories, including photographs and mementos from her deceased husband and grandparents.
“I had a pain in the belly like there was no tomorrow,” Nieves said.
Michael Lanza, a spokesperson for the Health Department, said they hadn’t seen a citywide uptick in hospitalizations for gastrointestinal issues, though he said they’re monitoring the situation. The state Health Department recommends wearing rubber boots and gloves and an N95 mask when cleaning out a flood-damaged home.
The two neighbors live in a five-block radius of Woodside where nearly every home was badly damaged by flooding. Over the weekend, many residents told Gothamist/WNYC they’d been forgotten by the city, left alone to clean out their ravaged homes without assistance. A day after that report, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and Federal Emergency Management Association Administrator Deanne Criswell toured the area, promising more relief for residents.
On Monday, President Joseph Biden upgraded New York’s status to a “major disaster,” meaning that renters and homeowners can now report flood damage directly to the federal government to receive compensation. Biden is expected to visit Queens Tuesday afternoon.
Ida doused the New York metro area in nearly ten inches of rain in some spots, shattering a record for the most rainfall tracked in a single hour that had been broken just a few days earlier by Hurricane Henri. Wetter and more ferocious hurricanes are expected along with many other devastating impacts of climate change.
Update: This headline been clarified to note that raw sewage is suspected as the cause for the illness suffered by residents who were not hospitalized.