By Michael Morton
Mary Kierenia blamed the city for her husband's death, linking it to neighborhood flooding after a record Queens deluge the week before. That storm left two college sweethearts dead after their partially submerged car stalled in neighboring College Point and they stepped into water that had been electrified by a downed power line.Officials said the city was not at fault in the most recent accident. It began when Edward Kierenia, 75, a maritime engineer and self-taught handyman, left the dinner table for his garage, situated below his one-story home at 24-07 160th St. As he headed downstairs, he told his wife that he needed to clean out their drain, a square concrete hole that both collects water running down from the sloping driveway and provides an outlet if the sewer is backed up, sparing the house's nicer rooms.Kierenia was worried, Mary said, because a record-breaking borough storm on Aug. 11 had left them with three feet of water in their garage, and a smaller rain earlier in the day had created a pool of several inches. She said he was preparing for the next potential storm, but when he did not answer her later that evening, she went downstairs and found his feet sticking up out of the hole. He was taken to Flushing Hospital, but it was too late, she said.”The way I found him shocked me,” a choked-up widow said by telephone Tuesday. “He was everything to me.”Kierenia died of a heart attack and keeled over into the hole, according to an autopsy, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office said. He did not appear to have a broken neck, she said, an injury his wife thought he also had suffered.Mary Kierenia said her husband's death was connected to the flooding on Aug. 11, a problem she wants to stop for the good of the area.”Other people in the neighborhood deserve some kind of action,” she said. “Unfortunately, it's too late for my husband.”Nearly two inches of rain fell during the Aug. 11 storm, with weather cells concentrated over northern Queens. Mary Kierenia described 160th Street as a river and said her neighbors suffered severe property damage, with dumpsters later filled with ruined furniture.During the storm, water from the street ran down into their garage, and the toilets also overflowed, Kierenia said. Their garage again collected run-off on Saturday but only two inches, she said.On Friday City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) viewed the damage to 160th Street from the Aug. 11 storm and described it as “substantial.” During his outing, he met with both Mary and Edward Kierenia and vowed to help the community file damage claims with the city comptroller. He said he was working with Christopher Ward, the commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection, to determine what, if anything, needed to be done to stop flooding in the area.A spokesman for the DEP said the city will soon begin construction on a $35 million abatement project to the north but that 160th Street is not an area normally plagued by flooding. He said the DEP had only received one complaint from the area in the last 10 years. The storm on Aug. 11, he said, was a very rare occurrence.”The system's not designed to handle a 50-year storm,” he said, adding that the seven-foot-wide sewer pipes are usually able to cope with stormwater. The DEP will nonetheless study the area, and the spokesman urged residents to call 311 with problems.Mary Kierenia said her husband, who emigrated from Poland in the 1940s, had had heart problems for the past 23 years but had worked around the house without incident, thanks to his medications.”He would fix everything,” she said. “He was a great man.” In addition to his wife, Edward Kierenia is survived by a daughter and three grandchildren.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.