President Biden declared New York City’s four outer boroughs and Westchester County the site of a major disaster Monday, greenlighting federal aid for people affected by Hurricane Ida’s torrential downpours.
Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will include funding for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and aid from other recovery programs to help fight the effects of the disaster.
The federal allocation comes after Biden made assurances to Gov. Hochul last Thursday that FEMA money would be available to help New Yorkers recover from the damage caused by unexpected flash floods that swamped roadways, houses and apartment buildings the previous night, killing more than a dozen people as the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through the city.
Hochul made her first stop the next morning outside a home on 90th Avenue in Jamaica, where two residents were found dead on Wednesday night.
The Jamaica victims, a mother and her adult son, were killed when the crush of water caused part of a wall to cave in, inundating them in their basement home.
“Moments ago I was on the phone with the White House, President Biden called, offered any assistance, he repeated any assistance that the state of New York needs — I told them, we’ll take him up on that,” said Hochul at the Thursday press conference.
The governor appeared with Mayor de Blasio, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Congressman Greg Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau) and Borough President Donovan Richards among other Queens electeds to pledge recovery support.
Hochul said she has directed the Department of Financial Services to contact insurance providers so they could transport staff to affected neighborhoods and start the claims process. Schumer said he had spoken to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and promised that New York would be declared a disaster area — a designation that would unlock federal relief money for residents and municipalities [see separate story].
Schumer said the storm had increased his resolve to pass the infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills, which contain climate change provisions.
Wednesday’s downpour in Central Park matched the wettest hour on record only 10 days after the rainfall from Hurricane Henri had broken that same record. For the first time ever, the National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Emergency in New York City.
“What we’ve got to recognize is the suddenness and the brutality of storms now. It is different. A record set two weeks ago, another record set now. We haven’t seen this ever. This is the biggest wake-up call we could possibly get,” de Blasio said at the event.
The mayor then promised “an entirely different approach” to resiliency projects going forward.
Richards cited the city’s $1.9 billion investment from 2018 that the de Blasio administration put aside for building drainage systems in several Southeast Queens neighborhoods like Rosedale and the Rockaways as mitigating the effects of Wednesday’s storm.
Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said that he has repeatedly had to come out to 90th Avenue, near where the Jamaica storm-related deaths took place, during flooding events to help residents recover.
“The cruel irony is, as Borough President Richards indicated, of the $2 billion in infrastructure that was spent, nearly half the city’s infrastructure budget, spent here in Southeast Queens, the priority was 183rd Street,” said Miller.
But Richards said the storm shows the recent infrastructure projects are not enough, and the area needs more federal money.
“If we do not address climate change, we will continue to lose lives across not just this borough, but across this country and this state,” Richards said.