Areas Clean Up From Floods Sparked By Storms
One after another, several thunderstorms producing torrential rains hit Queens and Brooklyn last Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 15, flooding local streets and the basements of homes in many of the same low-lying areas hit hard by a similar storm just over five years ago.
The NationalWeather Service in dicated that about two inches of rain were produced by the storms which hit the area after 1 p.m., but the rapid rate in which it fell caused flash floods and overwhelmed local sewer lines.
Many of the locations most af fected by flooding were in low lying spots that experienced similar prob lems during a heavy thunderstorm on Aug. 8, 2007, approximately five years and a week before last Wednes day’s weather event.
The Cooper Avenue underpass on the Glendale/Middle Village border, which was flooded by 12’ of water back in the 2007 storm, was once again hit hard by a flash flood last Wednesday. Several cars attempting to travel through the water reportedly became stuck, and first responders rushed to rescue drivers and passengers who became trapped.
Other locations which experienced flooding included Knickerbocker Avenue near Starr Street in Bushwick, 86th Avenue and 110th Street in Richmond Hill, 77th Avenue near 79th Place in Glendale, 85th Street in Glendale and Penelope Avenue and 72nd Street in Middle Village. Parts of the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway in Kew Gardens were also closed for a time due to heavy water on each roadway.
From a few inches to a few feet of water, numerous homes around Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and surrounding neighborhoods also reported flooded driveways and sewer backups in basements similar to the aftermath of the Aug. 8, 2007 rain event.
In the aftermath of last Wednesday’s flooding, local residents and activists called on the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to investigate the instances of flooding last Wednesday and to come up with both short- and long-term remedies to prevent future incidents.
Why did Glendale flood?
The front page of the Aug. 15, 2007 Times Newsweekly featured a photo of a flooded Cooper Avenue underpass, where the water rose just a couple of feet below the railroad trestle with crosses the roadway.
A near mirror image was seen at the location following the first thunderstorm at the location last Wednesday, as a sewer backup flooded the lowest part of the underpass with several feet of water.
Drivers who miscalculated the depth of the water and attempted to drive through it wound up paying the price, as their vehicles became waterlogged. Firefighters and paramedics rushed to the location to pull individuals out of their trapped vehicles.
In one of the disabled cars was an 86-year-old nun and two passengers, who were all pulled to safety by two emergency medical technicians who responded.
The exact cause of the deluge in the underpass is under investigation. According to Lydon Sleeper, chiefof staff to City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, a large sewer pump located near the Cooper Avenue underpass—which has been known to fail “occasionally”—may have done so last Wednesday.
The apparent pump failure was also believed to have caused street and basement flooding in Glendale homes located south of the Cooper Avenue underpass, Sleeper said. As of Tuesday morning, Aug. 21, Crowley’s office had logged more than 40 flooding cases from residents in that area.
Sleeper told the Times Newsweekly in a phone interview that Crowley’s office is investigating whether the ongoing reconstruction of the underpass—which involves the rehabilitation of its retaining walls— contributed to the sewer system failures in the immediate area. Up until last Wednesday, he noted, the underpass had not experienced such flooding since the August 2007 thunderstorm.
“Significant areas of Glendale have dealt with flooding issues, which led to my office advocating for the successful installation of new catch basins in prone areas throughout Middle Village and Glendale,” Crowley said in a statement issued on Monday, Aug. 20. “But in my four years in office, even after a hurricane and a microburst, our community has not witnessed this type of extensive flooding. We need to determine whether the construction at the underpass directly led to the failure of the pumping station and ensure that the city makes the necessary corrections to prevent future flooding.”
Council Member Crowley also sent a letter to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland and Department of Design and Construction (DDC) Commissioner David Burney calling for “an immediate investigation to determine whether the construction impeded the ability of the pumping station to handle the high water levels.”
The Times Newsweekly contacted the DEP by phone and e-mail for comment about last Wednesday’s flooding, but as of press time, no response was provided.
Deluge deja vu in Middle Village
Like their neighbors in Glendale, Middle Village residents also experienced flooding issues last Wednesday— but, according to two homeowners, the condition has happened far more frequently in their neighborhood.
“This was the third time we got hit this year, but this one was really bad,” said Maria Cascione, who lives with her husband Vito in the area of Penelope Avenue and 72nd Street. They were profiled in the Times Newsweekly following two flooding incidents in the summer of 2007.
Maria Cascione stated that Penelope Avenue, along with nearby homes, driveways and garages, were filled with several feet of water during and after the downpour last Wednesday. Similar flooding had occurred on her block following heavy thunderstorms in June and July of this year.
“[The water] came up from the sewer. It wasn’t stopping,” she said, noting that the force of the rain filled nearby catch basins and sewers so quickly that the water gushed out of manholes and into the streets. Before the garage was flooded, she noted, her daughter moved their car out to higher ground.
Eventually, Maria Cascione stated, Penelope Avenue filled up with several feet of water, and local residents stood out on the corners to instruct drivers to use an alternate route and avoid becoming trapped in the flooded roadway.
Following the 2007 floods, the Casciones and their neighbors experienced property damage resulting from water conditions in their basements and garages. Though the property damage was not as significant in recent floods, Maria Cascione noted, the cleanup was nonetheless messy.
“The sewer gets flooded and you get the smell,” she said. “After the first flood in June—we hadn’t had one in a year or two—we had muck and mud laying around in the garage, on the sidewalk and the street. It’s disgusting.”
In recent years, Vito Cascione noted, homeowners and Community Board 5 have pushed for improvements to the sewers in the area of Penelope Avenue in Middle Village.
“I also requested to have the catch basins covers changed to have the ones that are close to the curb to prevent what people to continue to throw down there,” he told the Times Newsweekly in an e-mail. Some of the debris which is discarded in the basins, he noted, includes dog excrement in plastic bags; after recent floods, he’s also had to remove several rats which washed up from the sewers.
“[The] DEP has a plan to somewhat fix this, but it’s being reported that it won’t be done in my area till 2015,” Vito Cascione added.
The project he referred to, according to Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano, involves the replacement of existing sewer lines underneath Penelope Avenue between 69th Place and 80th Street with larger mains equipped to handle greater amounts of storm and sewer water. That work is currently in the design phase, he noted, and the DEP must discuss the matter further with the community board.
What also needs to be addressed, Giordano observed, is a “bottleneck” connecting existing lines on Penelope Avenue to a larger main which travels north-and-south under 74th Street, Juniper Valley Park and the CSX rail line and eventually connects to the Newtown Creek Water Treatment Facility. Water currently pours in from Penelope Avenue from the east and west into that pipeline, he noted.
“If the water can’t get into [the main under] 74th Street because there’s so much water coming in, it’s going to back up,” Giordano added. “They’ve got to do something about that bottleneck.”
Following the August 2007 flooding, the DEP launched a number of projects in and around Glendale and Middle Village to improve sewer flow and alleviate future flooding conditions, the district manager stated. Among those projects was the installation of larger sewer lines under 54th Avenue and Maurice Avenue in Maspeth.
Another project in the works includes the installation of new sewer lines under Calamus Avenue and 69th Street in Maspeth/Woodside, he added.
But Vito Cascione noted that “the bottom line is that it’s getting worse” for him and his neighbors in Middle Village, and that improvements to the sewer system in the area should be made more rapidly.
“It’s getting to the point where it’s really unhealthy,” he said. “Every time I go into that water, I don’t know what I’m going to get out of it.”