The perfect storm, so to speak, rocked southern Queens as a new moon coincided with the bomb cyclone, now known as Winter Storm Elliot, which hit the Northeast.
It produced flooding reminiscent of Hurricane Irene, the one that hit the year before Superstorm Sandy, with approximate three-foot storm surges.
“The peak storm surge hit almost identical to high tide,” said Roger Gendron, president of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, of this latest storm. “In Irene, the peak surge hit during low tide so we did not have the devastation that people expected.”
Hamilton Beach was inundated this time around, as well as Old Howard Beach and even parts of New Howard Beach that do not typically see the water rise in the streets. The flooding also hit from Broad Channel to the Rockaways.
Two Red Cross service centers are now set up in the area, one at PS 207 at 159-15 88th St. in Howard Beach and another in Far Rockaway at the Goldie Maple Academy, located at 3-65 Beach 56th St., city Department of Emergency Management Commissioner Zachary Iscol stated today at a City Hall press conference alongside the FDNY and the city Departments of Sanitation and Transportation and Environmental Protection.
They will be open on Friday from 4:30 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mayor Adams was not present during the press conference and First Deputy Mayor Lorraine Grillo said that he has taken two days off but has been participating in the day's meeting "many, many times."
Iscol was on the ground in Howard Beach this morning with Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Ozone Park) to survey the damage and needs.
“We toured the entire district, making sure that DSNY, FDNY, DEP and all the other first responding agencies were aware of what the needs were going to be once the storm water retreated back into the bay,” Ariola said.
The tide, she said, came up a “fraction of an inch” lower than that of Hurricane Irene.
Even areas of Broad Channel that were the site of recent street raising projects took on water, said Gendron and Mike Latella, a Howard Beach resident who has 40 years of meteorology experience and worked for over a decade as a television weatherman.
“The street raising wasn't intended to stop all flooding,” said Latella. “It was only intended to stop the average full moon high tide and it normally does. But when you have the full moon high tide and you combine that with winds that are coming onshore at the strength that they've been coming in today … That's why it was so bad. I've heard people that had water in their houses that really haven't had in a long time.”
PJ Marcel, head of the Howard Beach Dads Facebook group and owner of Trackside Collision, was getting calls all morning for help with abandoned cars and flooded basements. He partnered up with the owners of Cross Bay Mechanic, who had 15 pumps ready to go to help people empty their basements.
Marcel saw one woman, whose home is on 99th Street, who had not only her car destroyed but also a basement full of Christmas presents wrecked.
As for the cars, once the floor panels get wet, “that’s it,” he said.
Pictures of cars with water up to the hoods flooded Facebook. The Rockaway Times posted fish swimming in flooded living spaces and retweeted what is believed to be part of a recently autopsied whale that washed up into the streets. It is thought to be the one found on the shore in Arverne last week.
Flooding retreated throughout the day and the winds have shifted to no longer blow water inland. Officials now believe that the evening tide will not be of concern but that the drop in temperatures will be, as they are set to near 10 degrees overnight. Latella and Marcel recommend keeping at least a steady drip coming to prevent pipes from freezing.
“I think phase two of this, with the low temperatures and the high winds, could bring us other issues like downed power lines, downed trees,” said Ariola. “The ice is really going to be a problem.” She said the Sanitation Department is out in “full force” salting the streets.
“If you don't have to leave the house, don't,” she added. “If you're a first responder, be careful out there.”’
Iscol said that around 700 salt spreaders were being deployed across the city to combat black ice and that the Joint Transportation Management Center, operated by the NYPD and the DOT, was activated to handle any traffic issues including power outages that could lead to traffic signals going out.
Emergency Service Unit trucks were also out, Iscol said, and facilitated non-life-threatening rescues in the morning.
Top of mind for many is how to prevent storms like this from wrecking such havoc on coastal communities.
“If they built my floodgates, we wouldn’t have this problem,” said Gendron, who has advocated for the US Army Corps of engineers to build coastal flood gates around Jamaica Bay, for which a project has been proposed but remains years down the line.
Borough President Donovan Richards said Hurricane Ida came to mind but told the Chronicle, “When you're someone who's been impacted and lost everything, it doesn't matter what the name of the storm is. It's very sad to come up on the holiday season to see people and families who've lost everything.”
That is what he saw in the Rockaways today, he said, and he plans to visit Hamilton Beach tomorrow and Howard Beach in the coming days.
“This is really about ensuring that those who lost everything could be made as whole as possible,” Richards said.
He tweeted earlier today: “We need immediate investment to improve our infrastructure and combat climate change.”
Talk of Federal Emergency Management Assistance funds has also come up but it will have to be determined if the areas meet the threshold to receive assistance.
Damage can be reported to 311 or at bit.ly/3YKmY0H.