PARK SLOPE, Brooklyn (PIX11) — Five people, including a two year old, have lost their lives to drowning, and hundreds more have been pulled out of New York City area waters in the last three weeks.
On Monday, the family of two year old Ruhshona Kurbonova spoke publicly for the first time since her tragic death on Saturday as part of efforts to make New Yorkers safer and smarter about being in and around water in the region. They joined with their borough president and swimming instructors to emphasize how two things — being near a lifeguard and learning to swim — can prevent tragedy.
On Saturday, the mother of Ruhshona, who would have turned three in September, wailed so loudly that people more than a block away could hear her cries of mourning.
On Monday, the girl’s father, Dilshod Isakov, told reporters how he, his wife and Ruhshona’s siblings are doing. “The family is very devastated,” said NYPD community coordinator Erham Yildirim, who translated for Isakov and other relatives.
His daughter’s death on Saturday was the latest in a string of such tragedies in the last three weeks. On June 19th, a 29 year-old died in an early morning plunge into the beach at Coney Island. The next day, two 13 year-old boys tried to escape the heat by jumping into the Bronx River, and got pulled under. And on June 26th, a 21 year-old celebrating college graduation in Williamsburg never emerged from the East River. All of the deaths have one thing in common.
“Don’t swim without a lifeguard present. Full stop,” said Shawn Slevin, chairwoman of the Swim
Strong Foundation. She founded the organization nine years ago to teach New Yorkers how to swim and to educate them about water safety. Swim Strong works with the office of the Brooklyn Borough president, who said on Monday that he was shaken by this rash of drownings, particularly the latest one.
“I can determine the difference between algae and grass,” Borough President Eric Adams said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “We want to make sure we adjust to make sure we are safe.”
He said that thick, green algae on the surface of Prospect Park Lake may have been mistaken for grass by the two year-old who drowned, and he said he’ll work with park officials and community members to try and get the situation changed.
He said he would attempt to “not make any aesthetic changes” to the lake, but to do something to make it safer.
Its algae is removed once a week, but quickly grows back. It’s possible that the borough president would propose more frequent removal during the summer months.
Adams also called for more people to learn to swim, something that the closest non-park pool to the place where Ruhshona died is calling for as well.
The Prospect Park YMCA opened its new aquatics center last week. The competition sized pool now joins a smaller pool at the athletic facility on 9th Street in Park Slope in its efforts to promote water safety for the New York community at large.
“If you feel that the program would be unobtainable for you due to financial reasons,” said Meghan Gough, aquatics director for the Prospect Park Y, “we do not turn anyone away.”
She said that at her facility alone, instructors teach 78 different classes to 1,000 students a week, and that those students range in age from 6 months to more than 80 years old. The YMCA has 28 pools citywide, and its policy of allowing anyone to take lessons, whether they can afford it or not, applies to every facility.
That policy may be of particular help in communities of color. According to the Brooklyn borough president and the Swim Strong Foundation, children of color drown three times more often than whites.
Also, drowning is the second largest cause of death worldwide, and it’s the leading cause of death for children under five, like Ruhshona Kurbonova.
Her funeral is scheduled for Tuesday, July 8th, in Brooklyn. Thank in large part to donations, her family will fly her body to their native Uzbekistan later in the week. Ruhshona will buried in Samarkand, one of that Central Asian country’s largest cities.