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Queens Chronicle

Facility failure may be flood cause, city says

Lindenwood residents clean up from disaster ‘worse than Sandy’

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Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014 10:30 am

Families in Lindenwood spent most of last Thursday cleaning out their basements and trying to salvage what they could after a storm dumped more than five inches of rain over Queens on April 30, causing a flash flood to hit the community.

Last week’s floods took the neighborhood, located alongside Spring and Ralph creeks — tributaries of Jamaica Bay — by surprise. Though the area was hit by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012, it was not affected as badly as the rest of Howard Beach. That made last week’s flood even more surprising.

“This was worse than Sandy,” Richie Perez of 79th Street said. “During Sandy I had a pump going. We didn’t lose power this time. The pump was just overwhelmed.”

Residents pointed the finger at an inadequate sewer drainage system, but several sources from the city Department of Environmental Protection are saying the infrastructure in the neighborhood is fine and malfunctioning flood control infrastructure in Spring Creek may be to blame.

At least two sources in the DEP said the agency is eyeing a possible failure at the Spring Creek sewer overflow facility in Brooklyn. The sources say the system failed during last week’s rainstorm, causing sewers to back up into homes.

A DEP spokesman said the facility will be manned the next time it rains so the computerized system can be manually overridden if it fails.

Meanwhile, residents struggled to pick up the pieces of their lives that survived past heavy rains and hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

“I was doing OK until I started to bring out some of my daughter’s things,” said Dale Bleiweiss of 80th Street, looking over high school and college diplomas, sports awards, and a Little Mermaid jigsaw puzzle done years ago and now lying in her family’s driveway. “We did that when she was a girl.”

The city’s Office of Emergency Management was on site coordinating efforts of Con Edison, National Grid, the Red Cross, the NYPD and both the city and West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire departments to make sure all residents in Lindenwood were safe.

More than two dozen Red Cross staff have started and will continue to distribute cleanup supplies, such as mops, brooms, cleaning solution, rubber gloves, garbage bags, sponges and buckets. More than 600 homes that sustained the worst damage in both Lindenwood and East New York, Brooklyn were canvassed by Red Cross workers and several families who lived in flooded basement apartments were assisted, said Red Cross spokesman Michael de Vulpillieres.

Memories of Sandy flashed through the minds of residents as they dealt with flooded streets, basements and garages overnight, as well as marooned cars.

“We lost everything,” said Norma Cantor, who lives at the corner of 153rd Avenue and 81st Street, adding that the losses include two classic cars.

Cantor, who had no heat, said the sewers backed up into her driveway and into her den.

“All of Lindenwood is covered, everybody has furniture thrown out,” she said, adding her lawn was covered in mud. “I need a boiler; I need a washing machine, a dryer and walls. It’s dreadful, it’s a disaster.”

Rockwood Park Jewish Center Cantor Shuie Samuels, who lives at 78th Street and 156th Avenue, said his basement was flooded.

Samuels said the flooding came because of backups from sewers that hadn’t been cleaned since Sandy.

“I had to walk through the water just to get to my house,” said Samuels.

Faye Rapinsky, who lives on 82nd Street and 151st Avenue, had a flood in her basement that affected her appliances and furniture. She said the water started coming in at 7 p.m. and her pump couldn’t handle it.

“This is like Sandy,” she said. “The sewers are the problem.”

Steve Gianiotis, whose family owns a home on 149th Avenue, said they were still assessing damage as the water was being pumped out by a commercial contractor. He laid much of the blame on the failure of the city to prioritize sewer upgrades.

“[Politicians] work on airport noise all the time,” he said. “Let me tell you — we’ve been living with airport noise. We can’t live with what’s going on right here. What if this water has been infected by sewage?”

But several DEP sources said the sewer system is not an issue in the neighborhood and up until last week, the flooding problem was specific to certain homes and not neighborhood-wide.

Richard Hedrick and his family had all the water out and had begun cleaning by late Thursday morning. The high-water mark in his garage reached about 20 inches.

“We’ve been flooded three times,” he said. “This was the worst.”

No injuries or any serious structural damage were reported, though most residents were planning to rip out paneling, drywall and insulation immediately.

Perez was in the process of moving destroyed furniture out to the curb. But he said other losses were greater.

“Christmas ornaments; a box of all the things my son has done or made over the years that we were planning on giving him when he gets married; family photos; Halloween decorations,” he listed.

Bleiweiss said items for her daughter’s wedding were still inside in a room they had not yet been able to get into because of all the debris in the garage.

Charlie Magiaricina of 149th Avenue said he only had about an inch due to modifications he made to his home a few years ago after sewage backed up into it from a previous storm.

“I capped the sewer line in my driveway and added a dry well,” he said. “I removed a toilet from the basement and capped that. My neighbors had a lot of flooding last night, but I was okay.”

Local officials, including Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), attended a status update last Thursday with agencies outside of a city Office of Emergency Management mobile command center.

Goldfeder, in a statement issued by his office, said there must be a two-pronged response.

“Our first priority is to ensure that every family is safe and that homes are secure,” he said. “Sandy should have been a call to action to invest in our aging sewer infrastructure and yet families will have to suffer with more losses and recovery. Once again, it took a major storm to demonstrate that our infrastructure is not prepared to deal with rising floodwaters.”

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said it was clear to him that the problem wasn’t just the rain.

“When Lindenwood gets more floodwater than Hamilton Beach, other parts of Howard Beach and Broad Channel, you know something is wrong,” he said. “I urge all governmental agencies, specifically NYC DEP, to quickly find out what went wrong and how it’s going to be fixed.”

Nancy Silvestri, an OEM spokeswoman, said the office will continue assessing damage, coordinating the efforts of the various city departments, utility companies and relief agencies, and connecting residents with necessary services.

Ulrich’s office said residents who suffered damage can file claims electronically through City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office at comptroller.nyc.gov/forms-n-rfps/filing-claims/.

Failing infrastructure aside, Wednesday’s storm was a record-breaker.

Joe Pollina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the storm that went into early Thursday morning was an extensive one.

“It struck most of the eastern seaboard; we had reports of flooding as far down as the Florida panhandle,” he said.

The system dropped 5.43 inches of rain on LaGuardia Airport and 4.96 at JFK. He said there was an unconfirmed report from Queens of 6 inches. The totals made Wednesday the 10th rainiest day in city history.

Domenick Rafter contributed to this article.

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