Bronxites Pick up the Pieces & Seek Relief in Wake of Storm Ida

Date: 2021-09-11 18:40:58



FLOOD WATERS REACH the top of a garbage can with the lid open (center of image) in what is usually a walking trail and picnic area in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. The flooding was caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida which dumped over seven inches of rain in the Bronx, according to reporting from WABC-TV.
Photo by José A. Giralt

The relative and literal “calm before the storm” on the afternoon and early evening of Wednesday, Sept. 1, perhaps lured many Bronxites into a fall sense of security that then-impending Storm Ida would not be as extreme as forecast. The consequences of such nonchalance proved to be devastating.


Between noon and 6 p.m., the day was overcast, humidity was at 82 percent, temperatures ranged from 68 to 72 degrees F, southwesterly winds were traveling at 11.8 mph but there was no rain. At 6.18 p.m., the National Weather Service (NWS) tweeted that tornado warnings had been issued for New York, Connecticut and New Jersey and the next three hours saw a deluge of rainfall which continued through the night.


By 9 p.m., NWS had issued a flash flood warning to all New Yorkers via their cell phones. Residents were instructed not to travel unless they were fleeing a flooded area. “This is a dangerous and life-threatening situation,” the warning read. A half an hour later, as reported, NWS tweeted that a flash flood emergency warning had been issued for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.


NWS officials later clarified that Flash Flood Emergency alerts are only issued when an area experiences 6 to 10 inches of rainfall over several hours. “A flash flood emergency is issued for exceedingly rare situations when a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage from a flash flood is happening or will happen soon,” a tweet from the service read.


In the Bronx, Breaking News Network (BNN) began to report road flooding on the I-95 (New England Thruway Interchange) at Bartow Avenue in Co-op City at around 10 p.m., citing reports by emergency service units that numerous people in cars were stranded in the water. A half an hour later, similar reports were received at the Bronx River Parkway and Westchester Avenue in Soundview.


Between 11 p.m. and 11.45 p.m., BNN issued a traffic alert at the Cross Bronx Expressway and Jerome Avenue at the Mt Eden/Morris Heights border. Emergency units reported that both eastbound and westbound lanes of the expressway were shut down due to flooding.


At 11.20 p.m., BNN reported an officer-assist request, received by Yonkers police department, for two officers seemingly in the Bronx’s 47th precinct who were reportedly standing on the roof of a police vehicle which was under water on the Bronx River Parkway at the City/County border in Woodlawn.


Citizen’s App users posted at around 9.50 p.m. that several people were reportedly trapped inside Bedford Park Boulevard subway station, which serves the D and the B lines, and that emergency personnel were responding to the situation.


A separate Citizen’s App post that night showed a video of severe flooding in the South Bronx at Crotona Avenue and Claremont Parkway with motorists also trapped in cars due to the severe conditions.


Janno Lieber, acting MTA chair and CEO, had, at that stage, instructed New Yorkers not to attempt to travel until further notice, and at around midnight, both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Kathy Hochul had issued a state of emergency.


At 12.24 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2, the 52nd precinct sent a tweet which read, “The following intersections are closed due to flooding, avoid these areas. Bedford Park Blvd and Webster Ave. Parkside Place and Webster Avenue. Mosholu Parkway from Van Cortlandt Ave to Jerome Avenue.”


A photo shared on Twitter at 3.41 a.m. on Sept. 2 by former City Limits editor-in-chief, Jarrett Murphy, showed a flood-lit and flooded Williamsbridge Oval in Norwood, with the message, “The Williamsbridge Oval was once a reservoir. It is now a shallow lake.”


At 5.26 a.m. on Sept. 2, Citizen users said firefighters were reportedly rescuing around 50 people from an estimated 80 out-of-service vehicles at the Major Deegan Expressway at 230th Street in Kingsbridge. Firefighters were reportedly requesting an additional boat to help search for vehicles along the highway.


On Thursday morning, Lieber provided a statement on the impact of the storm on the subway system, urging residents to stay home while water was being pumped from stations.


Images captured by Norwood News at around 8.45 a.m. on Thursday morning showed some vehicles almost submerged on the Major Deegan Expressway, while at Kingsbridge Road and Bailey Avenue in Kingsbridge Heights, large fallen trees were seen on top of two abandoned cars. On seeing the downed trees, people passing the scene were heard saying, “Oh my God, oh my God!” and expressed their hopes that the occupants got out alive.


Between 5.16 a.m. and 5.47 a.m. on Sept. 2, according to BNN, emergency units reported standstill traffic from Yonkers on the Major Deegan Expressway in Van Cortlandt Park, with the NYPD reporting major flood conditions and warning of a potential impact to a retaining wall at the location.


Later that morning, at 8.56 a.m., BNN reported on a partial roof collapse at 2980 Third Avenue in Woodstock. Assistance was requested from NYC Department of Buildings (DOB).


At 8.58 a.m., Citizen App users said police allegedly received a report of a ceiling collapse on a fourth-floor building at 1704 Seddon Street in Westchester Heights. They said that FDNY reportedly responded and there were no injuries.


At 11.20 a.m., BNN reported that highway units were requesting aviation units to perform a flyover to check for occupants in any cars which remained in the flood water on the Major Deegan Expressway.


At 1.15 p.m., it published reports of an apparent sink hole opening in the middle of the street at Van Nest Avenue and Radcliff Avenue in Morris Park and at 2.30 p.m., there were reports of a water rescue of two people allegedly stuck in the mud at Pelham Bay Bridge. They allegedly refused medical attention


Williamsbridge Oval Park in Norwood, The Bronx, on the morning of Sept. 2, 2021, after a night of heavy rainfall across New York State, caused by the remnants of Storm Ida. (The photo is a composition of two separate photographs). 
Photo by Adi Talwar


On Sept. 4 at 12.43 p.m., BNN reported that a retaining wall collapsed following Storm Ida at 1107 Boynton Avenue in Soundview and that assistance from DOB had been requested.


A source at the U-Haul company told the Norwood News that all floors at the U-Haul storage facility on W. 230th Street in Kingsbridge had been flooded, but not all customers suffered damage.


Norwood News attempted to corroborate the details of the various unconfirmed, reported incidents with EMS/FDNY, MTA, DOB, and the NYPD. We did not receive an immediate response. We also asked the FDNY for details of any injuries in the Bronx but did not receive an immediate response.


The New York Times reported that 13 people were killed in the City, following the storm, mostly in Queens and Brooklyn. Many lived in basement apartments. The Times also reported that at least 500 abandoned cars were towed from New York City streets, over the course of the storm and its aftermath.


On Friday, Sept. 3, Van Cortlandt Park Alliance shared storm-damaged photos of their flooded swimming pool which they said would be closed for a few days. On Sept. 4, officials confirmed the Park’s resident goats were safe although their hay got wet. Because they are located on higher ground, it didn’t flood. “We want [to] assure everyone they were just fine. They rode out the storm in their ‘goatel’ and Van Cortlandt House Museum kept a close eye on them.”


In the wake of the storm, Bronx Council for Environmental Quality (BCEQ) have called for funding and construction to speed up the proposed “daylighting” of Tibbetts Brook in Kingsbridge. Daylighting rivers or streams like Tibbetts Brook, which has been partially rerouted underground and covered over, is the process of removing obstructions like concrete or pavement which cover rivers and drainage ways and restores them to their previous condition.


Robert Fanuzzi, Ph.D., president of BCEQ, said that decades of overbuilding and disinvestment in the Bronx have made the Major Deegan Expressway an international symbol of urban failure to meet the planning changes demanded by climate change. “These changes should not be conditioned on the next weather forecast but should have happened yesterday,” Fanuzzi said. “BCEQ calls for a green floodplain to absorb stormwater; low impact development to manage runoff; and for 30 years, the daylighting of Tibbett’s Brook to redirect overflow water from Van Cortlandt lake. How much longer do we have to wait before the city adopts the natural solutions that can prevent further calamity?”

Meanwhile, stories gradually emerged about the damage done to individual homes. Local resident and chair of Bronx Community Board 7‘s environment and sanitation committee, Betty Arce, shared that her basement had been flooded, following the storm, knocking out the water heater. “It’s back on, but I’ll have to replace it,” she said.


On Sunday, Sept. 5, Norwood News spoke to residents at the newly opened Bronx Service Center set up by the New York Public Engagement Unit to provide assistance with relief efforts following the floods. It had been located at P.S. / M.S. 194 at 2365 Waterbury Avenue in Westchester Square but, as reported, NYC Emergency Management and the NYC Department of Social Services announced on Thursday, Sept. 9, that the service centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens changed locations, effective Friday, Sept. 10. The new Bronx center is located at Hostos Community College at 450 Grand Concourse, E. Building C, Bronx, NY 10451.


An official who greeted us at the front desk explained the type of services being offered. “They get your contact information in case anyone needs to contact you, and we have, like, the Red Cross, the Department of Buildings, as well as for rental assistance, COVID testing, vaccines, but it’s really the Red Cross and the Department of Buildings,” the official said.


A female resident of a basement apartment at 2147 Starling Avenue in Castle Hill, said of the damage she incurred, “Beds, clothes, everything, food… Oh my God! I had just gone grocery shopping and $500 down the drain.” Asked where the water came from, she said, “from the street, from the walls, because it seemed like, on the other side, they have the sewer or whatever room… and everything came up and flooded.”


She said she assumed the sewage had not been properly cleaned out and that caused the problem. “It came out from the toilet, the bathtub. I have so many bad videos. It’s depressing.”


Fred Valentin of Throgs Neck Boulevard lives near the Marina Del Rey and said he would be thankful to get some help in his neighborhood if it comes. “If we do, then it’s a big help because I got flooded in my basement and I had my son down there and he lost the computer, the bed, everything downstairs.”


Asked how much water he took in, he said about two feet. “Even my boiler and the hot water tank, I couldn’t even start it,” Valentin said. “We went without (hot) water for three-days. I called to see what they could do to start the hot water. They said, ‘It’s bad.’ I have a contractor and even these people are so busy. They were saying it’s going to take a week to get to me. Imagine something like that happening in the winter! What’s going to happen?”


Asked about two other recent storms that produced over 7 inches of rain, Valentin said, “Yeah, I had a flood, but not as bad as this one. It wasn’t that bad because I had like an inch or an inch-and-a-half, but this…”


He said this time the water was in his backyard and came through the back door. “I thought it was Niagara Falls back there. It was coming to the side of the door and the wall where I have my boiler. Water was gushing out of the wall and that had to be repaired and it had to be sealed. I had to have a contractor come in.” Valentin added that he had a heart problem and had to go for a knee replacement.


Asked if he thinks the City will see another 7 inches of rainfall, he said, “I hope not because right now, I cleaned up downstairs. We had to throw out clothing, appliances, but most of it was my son’s computer. That’s how he does his work for school and all that and it’s a headache.”


Randy Au from Schuylerville said the entire block at Codington Avenue and Crosby Avenue got flooded. “We had backyard flooding that flooded our basement, about a foot, up to my knees in water,” he said. “The basement flooded so the water heater… a bunch of walls… it took a lot of stuff.”


Au said water bubbled out of the sewer line, there was a giant pool in the center of the block and all his neighbors got flooded. He wasn’t sure what the Service Center staff could do. “We don’t know. We’ll see what they say,” he said. “I have no idea.” Asked if he had experienced flooding during previous storms, Au said he had not, but that it had gotten close a couple of times. “This was the time that it, finally, like, went over and got in.”


Asked if he thought such extensive flooding would become the new normal, he said, “Probably it’s going to happen more and more. That’s what I’m guessing. Yes, if not, it’s going to get worse, so… probably.”


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