WHITESTONE, Queens (PIX11) — Overnight and early morning rains on Tuesday left blocks of Whitestone, Queens, under water for the second time in just over a year.
Now, as families clean up the damage, they’ve called for stepped-up efforts by the city to prevent flooding. Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams’ administration says that it’s doing the work.
Over a five-block stretch of 160th Street, between 22nd Avenue and 25th Drive, homes got flooded out in the rainstorm that hit between midnight and 5 a.m. Tuesday. Many of the homes here have basements, with attached garages below street level, and sloping driveways. Virtually all of them within the zone took on water that was shoulder-high or higher.
Eddie Dai was called in from Forest Hills by his relatives who live in the area that flooded. They’d just moved into their home last Friday, after closing on the sale.
He’d come to help his family members, who’d just moved in from Toronto, Canada, clean up all the belongings that they’d just set up days before.
“This is insane,” Dai said, “because this is not a flooding zone.”
His comment was a reminder that getting an insurance reimbursement may be a challenge for him and his relatives.
Not only do they need reimbursement for damaged housewares, they need it for the family’s SUV.
“The car is moved by the water,” Dai said, pointed to the SUV.
It had been lifted up by floodwaters in the basement, and moved over. It had also gotten waterlogged. It was a total loss.
It was a similar situation to what had happened to the same part of 160th Street in early September of last year, when rains from Hurricane Ida dumped a month’s worth of rain in an hour’s time.
Now, said Grace Yee, another family member who’d come to help her newly moved-in relatives here, “They desperately need help,” she said. “Not only for this year,” she continued, “the problem has to be fixed so we don’t have the same problem next year.”
According to city statistics, the New York City sewer system can handle 1.75 inches of rain per hour. The part of the system where the inundated homes are located apparently could not handle that kind of volume.
In order to prevent such flooding going forward, the Adams administration has said it’s building a network of 11,000 rain gardens. Each of the gardens, according to the city, will soak up 2,500 gallons of water in a fast-falling rainstorm.
In a statement, a City Hall spokesperson said: “Last night’s storm showed why we need to continue to find new ways to handle intensifying storms and why our administration is dedicated to making the city more resilient to the storms we know are on the way as a result of climate change. We are committed to creating a very different stormwater management system from the one we inherited, and a multiagency effort is currently underway to turn our vision into a strategy with timelines, budgets, and locations. This planning work does not mean we aren’t doing real work right now. Our path to resilience requires us to look to nature to augment our sewer systems and to build green infrastructure to complement our concrete infrastructure, and we will continue making investments in our sewers, rain gardens, and bluebelt projects to achieve just that.”
The Adams administration said that it’s also planning to unveil a comprehensive sustainability plan for the city in April of 2023.
However, families whose homes flooded on Tuesday said that they want help with their situations now.
“Last year I had 7 feet [of floodwater]. Now I have 5 feet,” said Rula Vlahos, who lost, in the flood, the van out of which she runs her family’s florist business, as well as all of the items in her finished basement.
She and her family left the few things that she was able to salvage on their lawn to dry.
“To have all of my belongings out on the sidewalk? It’s adding insult to injury,” Vlahos saud,
Her sister, Pauline Samartzis, lives nearby, and was helping her sister and her family salvage and clean.
“This is an infrastructure problem here on 160th Street,” Samartzis said. “The mayor needs to take notice. He needs to be here.”
The mayor’s office said earlier this month that April’s sustainability plan will include details about that will include a $1.9 billion flood prevention system.