By Sarina Trangle
A torrent streamed out of a Ditmars watermain Saturday, caking several basements with water, mud and debris that quickly solidified into a deluge of insurance queries.
Michael Genta, who lives on 23rd Street near 24th Avenue, said the basement apartment he saved up for decades ago and built with his father and friend was stripped down to a concrete floor and ceiling. Because the leak did not come from his home’s connection to the watermain, Genta said his insurance company would not cover it.
“Somebody from DEP gave me some paperwork that said if the insurance company doesn’t pay for anything, file these papers and the city might,” Genta said. “I know how the city works. It’s going to be 20 years.”
Homeowners have 90 days to file claims with the city comptroller’s office, liabilities which would be honored if the government is deemed liable. The city Department of Environmental Protection said its investigation into why the main started spewing water was ongoing.
Residents said they awoke early Saturday to firefighters knocking on doors and water seeping up from the basement.
The Fire Department said it was called at 4:24 a.m. Paramedics rushed one individual to Elmhurst Hospital as a precaution, the FDNY said.
The leak was patched and the torrent quelled sometime around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., according to neighbors. The FDNY then began pumping out homes. The department said close to 100 basements took on water. It left the scene at 12:32 p.m.
About 15 basement apartments were affected, according to Michael de Vulpillieres, a spokesman for the American Red Cross Greater New York Region. De Vulpillieres said the Red Cross went door to door, offering assistance. He said about 40 homes accepted clean-up kits with mops, buckets and other supplies and two households needed emergency housing and other assistance.
The city Department of Buildings also flooded the block last weekend, examining buildings for structural damage. DOB spokesman Alexander Schnell said the department noted four addresses on 23rd Street that would need to be inspected once water was cleared out of them.
Inspectors issued a vacate order at 24-21 23rd St. and an Environmental Control Board violation for an unauthorized basement apartment, Schnell said. The vacate order was lifted following work Monday.
Vicky Vasiliades, who owns 24-21 23rd St., said her tenants had moved into the basement about 15 days ago.
She, like many neighbors, was struggling to make sense of insurance questions.
Vasiliades said after the road in front of her house began sinking a few weeks ago, she hired Balkan Sewer and Watermain to repair her home’s connection to the central watermain.
She and Gento said the contractors left their work exposed ahead of the weekend because they needed the city to inspect or okay the next move. While waiting for DEP, a temporary patch was placed on the piping, which firefighters said appeared not to have held, according to Genta.
DEP said it was not prepared to comment on the cause of the main’s malfunction.
Balkan did not immediately return a request for comment.
The company’s insurer, however, did ask 911 Restoration to gut and clean up more than a dozen homes, according to a 911 Restoration crew member on 23rd Street Tuesday.
As workers swept off slabs of plaster in Vasiliades’ basement, she picked up a small, black wall mirror.
“This is all that’s left,” Vasiliades said, noting her insurance company came and left and she was unsure when they would get back to her. “Who do I call?”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4546.