Some New York City residents in Brooklyn and Queens whose homes were damaged by last year’s Hurricane Ida woke up to flood destruction yet again, despite the city’s repeated promises to prevent this damage.
Dennis Stephen, 46, a homeowner in Middle Village, Queens, whose basement flooded with several feet of water during Ida, was jolted from slumber early Tuesday morning by the sound of sirens.
“We saw there was a huge river in our community driveway,” he said. Downstairs, the water in the basement of his home reached as high as his calves – less than during Ida, but enough to require work to fix. He got to work with a shop vacuum once the water had lowered slightly.
“This morning was the first time I really said to myself, 'I'm tired of doing this,'” Stephen said, expressing concerns about his elderly next-door neighbor. “This woman came from another country, saved all her money, and bought a house. She’s 86 and she’s gotta pump out her basement cause the city can’t get it together.”
I can’t sleep when it rains. My wife and I are traumatized.
In Ida’s wake, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a series of changes New York City would implement to stave off the worst impacts of catastrophic flooding. In July, newly elected Mayor Eric Adams laid out how his administration would handle flooding, with a preparedness plan that included measures such as handing out inflatable barriers and sandbags to vulnerable homeowners.
But several residents described feeling just as unprepared for flooding as they were last year.
“I can tell you to a person on this block, we've not been offered any inflatable barriers,” Stephen said.
Ed Timbers, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency had identified 18,000 homes at risk of flooding and thus eligible for them, though it wasn’t clear how many had actually received the protections by Tuesday’s storm.
Overnight, more than two inches of rain fell at LaGuardia Airport, according to the National Weather Service. That’s far less than the more than three inches of rain that fell in a single hour during Ida last year, but it was enough to snarl train traffic, trap motorists on flooded roadways, and damage some vulnerable homes.
Nancy Valero, who lives in a basement in Woodside, Queens, said she went to bed unconcerned about rainfall. She awoke to her newborn baby's cries, but when she stepped out of bed to feed him, she was standing ankle-deep in six inches of water. Valero and her family moved into the unregulated basement unit after the prior tenants left it behind following Ida.
“We didn’t know that this happened here. The owners didn’t tell us,” said Valero’s husband, Bernardo Marin, in Spanish. He wondered if there was any assistance for renters if they hadn’t been warned about the potential for flooding in their apartments. “What are we supposed to do? Evacuate, leave?”
Christina Farrell, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said warnings for the potential for flash flooding, and ones targeted to basement tenants, went out only to those who signed up for updates with Notify NYC. Members of the broader public didn’t get push notifications on their phones about flooding because predictions for the storm didn’t reach “catastrophic” levels. An emergency warning did go out over the phone for people in a tornado watch area, though that never touched down, she added.
“There’s more work to do,” she said. “There’s gonna be more storms like this now would be a very good time for us…to double down. It’s an ongoing process.”
Residents of a block in East Elmhurst, Queens known as “Biden Alley” mostly stayed dry, thanks to city-funded improvements to drainage in the communal driveway neighbors share, according to state Sen. Jessica Ramos. The area was wrecked during Ida, and earned the nickname after President Joe Biden toured the block last fall. But, Ramos added, several residents had raw sewage spewing out of water fixtures into their homes.
David, 37, an East Elmhurst resident, said raw sewage started spewing into his basement shortly after 4 a.m. Gothamist is withholding his last name because he fears ramifications from the city pertaining to an apartment on the garage level where his elderly parents live. He ushered his elderly parents and pets to the upper level and started to clean up several inches of raw sewage. He had to take out a $120,000 federal loan from the Small Business Administration last year to make repairs to his home after Ida, but he now wishes he hadn’t.
All I can say is, thank the good lord.
“If I had $120K, I would repay them and sell the house and move out of this state,” he said. “I can’t sleep when it rains. My wife and I are traumatized.”
In Hollis, Queens, on a block that perennially flooded for decades, neighborhood organizer Amit Shivprasad said he started getting alerts from the four weather apps he has on his phone after midnight. He rushed to his family’s home, which is still under construction from damages a year ago, but thankfully it was safe, as were those on the surrounding block.
“All I can say is, thank the good lord,” he said. “I don’t think we were prepared for this one this early in the morning.”
In an area on the border of Brooklyn and Queens known as the Hole, a low-lying neighborhood not connected to the city’s sewer system that is the site of perpetual flooding, Julisa Rodriguez said while her home hadn’t taken on water thanks to flood mitigation she’s paid for over the years out of pocket, the streets around her filled up like a moat.
“The street is halfway full, DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] no show as of yet,” she said in a text message just before 9 a.m. on her way to take her kids to school. She described her feelings, dealing with yet another flood, with a string of words: “fed up, giving up on hope, frustrating, upset, tiresome, forgotten, unheard, disgusting.”