Brooklyn and Queens Flooded in the Midst of the Workday

By Oona Milliken, Matthew Fischetti and Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]

From Rockaway Beach to Gowanus to Elmhurst, residents of Queens and Brooklyn faced the brunt of last week’s flooding as roadways, homes, subway stations and airports filled with water Friday in what has now been recorded as the worst storm to hit the city since Hurricane Ida.

Trash as a result of the flooding in South Williamsburg. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Communities worked together all afternoon to clear drains and save neighbors from rising floodwaters but as the outer boroughs return to dry warm weather this week, questions remain about Mayor Eric Adam’s ability to communicate and prepare New York City residents for the historic severe storm.

Water rose to more than three feet high on the corner of Wallabout Street and Harrison Avenue in South Williamsburg on Friday Sept. 29 as New Yorkers across the city dealt with a bout of extreme flooding that prompted a city-wide state of emergency. Anthony Calderon, a Queens-based resident who works at Top Quality Management, a management company on Wallabout St, said he was cleaning up the trash from his office that the water had swept away and spread out across the area. Calderon said when the intersection flooded, he was reminded of storms such as Hurricane Ida, when New York City was shut down under a Flash Flood Emergency for the first time in recorded history and 13 people perished due to the rains. 

“Hectic. A lot of rain. It’s just kept coming, kept coming. On Wallabout and Harrison, the flood was coming up here, to your knees at least,” Calderon said. “I was afraid, like ‘Not again, what is this flood?’ I remember a couple of years ago when the hurricanes came, all the subways flooded and Queen’s Boulevard…That’s how I felt, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Not again.’”

Mayor Eric Adams was slammed by critics for not giving proper notice of the flooding when his office knew of the dangers on Thursday evening and Governor Hochul had already issued a flash flooding warning for New York City earlier in the day. Adam’s office sent out an email alert at 11 p.m. on Thursday, but did not shut down schools and hosted a public briefing around noon on Friday, hours after the worst rainfall had subsided and the governor had already declared a state of emergency across the city. 

The New York City sewer system was originally designed to maintain 1.75 inches of rain per hour, but areas such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard were hit with 2.58 inches of rain per hour, as early as 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., according to the Mayor’s office.

“And so its no surprise, unfortunately, as a result, that that part of Brooklyn and a couple of other particularly (sic) part of Brooklyn have borne the brunt of this,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commish Rohit T. Aggarwala.

Right before noon, the mayor urged New Yorker’s to stay home or “shelter in place,” while many commuters were already at work. On the Wallabout St. and Harrison Ave intersection, Calderon said the flooding became so bad that community members stepped in and dealt with the problem on their own by removing a manhole cover and letting the storm water drain into the sewer systems. 

“People from the community thought of putting gates around, and I had to go do something, and when I came back I could just see a spiral [of water] going down right in the corner. It was amazing. I mean, you could see cars floating,” Calderon said. 

Community members gather around the open manhole drain. Photo credit: Oona Milliken

Sandy Spadavecchia was driving his car through the Wallabout and Harrison intersection when the water partially submerged his car, rising up inside and stalling his vehicle. Spadavecchia said he saw a couple of construction workers and Hasidic community members attempt to deal with the problem until someone finally pulled the manhole cover to drain the water. Spadaveccia said he was lucky his car stalled when it did because he could have driven right into the manhole as the water was running into the sewer system. 

“There was flooding and the car stalled out in the middle of going through it and that was it,” Spadavecchia said. “In some ways I was lucky because I stalled out three or four feet in front of that open manhole cover, I might have gone into that.” 

Spadavecchia said he felt the city could have prevented the piles of trash spread by floodwaters throughout the area had residents been told to keep trash inside during the storm. 

“In my personal opinion, they probably should have suspended trash pickup, because I did see a lot of trash bags that hadn’t been picked up clogging [the streets],” Spadaveccia said. “I mean, they knew this was coming so they probably should have told people to keep their trash in for the day.” 

Calderon and co-worker Peter Nieves, both at Top Quality Management, were mopping other stores on the street and picking up trash that had been spread during the floods Friday. When asked for a quote on the flooding, Nieves said he just wanted some help and maybe an alcoholic beverage.  

“Can I get a beer?” Nieves said.

Across Queens, where many residents are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Ida, floodwaters closed roads, impacted public transport and filled basements. Cars were overrun with flooding on Grand Central Parkway and in Rosedale, with a number of drivers abandoning their vehicles altogether. Waters engulfed Rockaway Beach, where nearly every home is considered to be at risk of flooding, suspending Long Island Railroad service

As early as 6 a.m. Friday, travelers at LaGuardia Airport were experiencing inclement weather delays. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for the afternoon across the airport, stopping all departing flights due to the flooding and weather in the area, canceling or delaying nearly 40% of all flights Friday. Terminal A, the oldest section of the airport, flooded with several inches of water and shut down 11 a.m. Friday until early Saturday morning. Videos captured travelers trudging through ankle-deep water at gates across the terminal. Ongoing renovations in Terminals B and C have included flood protections that have not yet been implemented in Terminal A.

Twice in Two Years: Water Main Break Floods Queensbridge Houses

By Daniel Offner

[email protected]

Last week, a water main burst in Long Island City flooded over a dozen cars in the vicinity of Vernon Boulevard and 41st Road in the area surrounding the Queensbridge Houses.

The break occurred around 2 a.m., leaving about 450 customers in the surrounding area without water service as crews excavated to find and patch the source of the leak.

Repairs were completed later that afternoon and water service was restored. Meanwhile, crews continue to work on repairing the roadway.

This is the second time in two years that the main has burst, flooding the entire block surrounding the NYCHA residences. According to CBS 2 New York, the leak originated from a different location along the same main.

Queensbridge residents are again without water as a water main break flooded our neighborhood five feet,” Senate candidate Kristen Gonzalez said in a statement on Twitter. “Our infrastructure is crumbling in the face of a worsening climate crisis. We are not prepared, and Black and brown New Yorkers are paying the price.”

Gonzalez is currently running in the Democratic primary for the New York State Senate seat which represents Long Island City, Astoria, and Greenpoint, against candidates Nomiki Konst and Elizabeth Crowley.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards also tweeted that the flooding outside Queensbridge was “wholly unacceptable.”

“Today’s water main break outside Queensbridge, just 18 months after last year’s break flooded the same area, exemplifies why we need to make massive investments across Queens to upgrade our underground water and sewer utilities,” Richards said, reminding residents that anyone whose vehicle was damaged by the flood can file a claim with the City Comptroller’s office.

Public Advocate testifies about flood resiliency

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilwoman Carline Rivera have introduced legislation that would require the city to have more emergency planning in relation to flash floods.

The National Weather Service had to issue its flash flood emergency –, which is more severe than a “watch” or “warning,” for NYC in the agency’s history this past September after historic rainfalls from hurricane Ida. 13 people from New York City, primarily in Brooklyn and Queens, died due to being trapped in flooded basements.

The city estimates that there are over 50,000 basement units in the city. But the number isn’t reflective of the reality as most “basement” apartments are illegal and technically classified as cellars – which have worse health standards and safety qualities.

A basement is a story of a building partly below curb level but with at least one-half of its height above the curb level; while a cellar is an enclosed space having more than one-half of its height below curb level – according to the Housing Preservation and Development website. While there was a pilot program to convert units into fully legal basements, the funding was slashed by 92 percent in the 2021 budget under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The current legislation being pushed by Williams and Rivera wouldn’t change the legality of basement apartments but rather focuses on how the city responds to these emergencies. The bill would require the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to establish a flash flood emergency evacuation plan for residents of multiple dwellings, post plans on the OEM website and conducting outreach, in coordination with the Department of Housing Preservation and Environmental Protection, that provides signage to residents regarding the flood risks and the evacuation plan. It would also require OEM to report on the implementation of the evacuation plan and post their reports on the OEM website.

“In the past decade, New Yorkers have been challenged by the hurricanes and floods that struck the New York City area leading to tragic consequences throughout the five boroughs…While New York City and the rest of the world grapple with the effects of climate change, we can put policies in place to prepare individuals who reside in flood zones,” Public Advocate Williams said during a committee hearing on Fire and Emergency Management and on Resiliency and Waterfronts. “Preparation is the key for maximizing best practices and minimizing tragedies.”

The bill would further require the OEM to release a report on the implementation of its plans within 60 days. The report would be required to give information on the number of multiple dwellings(including basement and first floor apartments evacuated during flash flood emergency), addresses and council districts of evacuated dwellings, challenges in implementing the evacuation plan and the number of people who were evacuated.

“We continue to talk about once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-hundred years storms as we now know. There will be much more than that. The horrors that I saw, in the City, during Hurricane Ida. Nothing is worse than losing lives that could have been prevented,” Williams said. “What we saw was the loss of homes, especially in southeast Queens, that we could have prevented and the lives that were lost with preventive intentions and communications. Because we had enough information to let folks know what was going to happen. We also know the areas that are continually flooded. Many of these residents have been complaining for many, many years without movement or response.”

Flood protection measures completed in Red Hook

Members of the New York City Emergency Management Department, Department of City Planning, and the Mayor’s Office visited the Atlantic Basin in Red Hook to celebrate the partial completion of the Interim Flood Protection Measures (IFPM) program.
Created in 2016 as a response to Superstorm Sandy, IFPM is focused on protecting critical facilities, infrastructure, and low-lying areas in New York City from flooding caused by a hurricane.
The Atlantic Basin in Red Hook was the first site completed by the IFPM, and is now equipped with additional flood protection measures. The basin was significantly damaged by storm surge during Sandy.
“New York City’s lowest-lying neighborhoods face increasing flood risks due to the climate crisis,” said Jainey Bavishi, director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency. “The temporary measures that have just been completed will provide immediate protections against coastal flooding. At the same time, we are continuing to work with the community to design a permanent coastal resiliency project that will provide long-term protections.”
The Red Hook site was identified as a priority site. The Atlantic Basin IFPM design includes a combination of semi-permanent barriers with various openings that allow for normal site operations.
These storm openings can be closed when surge from a coastal storm is forecast, using just-in-time, deployable protection measures. Interim flood protection measures provide a short-term level of protection while permanent mitigation is constructed at the site.
City agencies worked with engineering consultants and agencies to evaluate flood risks, perform site visits and feasibility assessments, and determined what measures to install to reduce flood risk at each IFPM location.
“Climate change and its risks to neighborhoods like Red Hook are here, and DDC is deeply engaged in coastal resiliency projects to protect the city’s many waterfront communities,” added Department of Design and Construction commissioner Jamie Torres-Springer.
The completion of the Atlantic Basin IFPM site coincides with peak hurricane season in New York City, which runs from August through October. NYC Emergency Management plans and prepares year-round for coastal storms and has a comprehensive Coastal Storm Plan that includes detailed procedures for evacuating and sheltering residents.
During a coastal storm, an evacuation order may be issued for those living in hurricane evacuation zones. To find out if you are one of the three million New Yorkers living in a hurricane evacuation zone, visit NYC.gov/knowyourzone or call 311.

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