Family photographs, mattresses, empty refrigerators, and stuffed animals lined the driveways and gutters of residential streets in Woodside, Queens on Saturday, still damp under the clear blue sky. The flood waters had receded, leaving behind heaps of unsalvageable belongings and the stench of rot.
Along a five block stretch of 48th Avenue, adjacent to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, nearly every home was ravaged by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. The storm brought deadly consequences for some residents, as well as material ones: an untold number of basement dwellings made uninhabitable, the accumulated possessions of generations wiped out in the span of a few hours.
But three days after the storm overwhelmed New York, some of the city’s hardest-hit victims say they’ve been left to fend for themselves. More than a dozen residents who spoke to Gothamist/WNYC on Saturday afternoon said they had not seen or heard from a city, state, or federal official in the aftermath of the storm.
“We need someone to at least acknowledge and validate what’s happened to us,” said Ivette Mayo, 50, who’s lived on a quiet tree-lined block of 64th Street near 48th Avenue for her entire life. “It’s disgraceful actually.”
Mayo’s 86-year-old father had slipped after wading through a flooded basement to shut off his boiler. He required hospital attention, but couldn’t leave as the water rose around him.
“No one has come. My house is destroyed,” he said in Spanish, sitting in his backyard, surrounded by religious figurines, cassettes and books splayed out to dry. “The same politicians who we voted for, thinking they were going to [help us]… We pay a lot of taxes, and no one has come.”
The only sign of any governmental presence came from the Sanitation Department on its regular Saturday morning trash route. Sanitation sent several additional trucks throughout the day that quickly filled. Residents said they have seen a few Red Cross volunteers handing out cleaning supplies. That was the extent of the help.
Asked about what relief the city was providing to Queens residents, Allison Pennisi, a spokesperson for the NYC Office of Emergency Management, directed people to the city’s website. It lists one emergency service center for the entire borough of Queens located about twenty blocks away at 46-02 47th Ave.
“The City is working around the clock to provide all New Yorkers the resources they need to recover from this devastating storm,” she said.
Maria Kasouto, a 73-year-old Woodside resident, said she has been calling 311 repeatedly, but couldn’t get through to anyone. She said she felt abandoned by her elected officials.
“When they need you to vote for them, they look for you and they call you and they send you letters,” she said. “But when you need them, no one hears you. It’s so sad what’s happening.”
While neighborhood organizations and mutual aid groups have stepped in to fill the gap, they say the scope of destruction is too great to address through community fundraising alone.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the area, put a call out for volunteers, though none had made it to this area of Woodside by Saturday. Gas had been shut off to most of the area, making it difficult for some residents to feed themselves. Calls to insurers, for those who had insurance, yielded nothing.
Inquiries to Governor Kathy Hochul’s Office were not returned immediately. Michael Wade, a spokesperson the Federal Emergency Management Agency said he understands family are suffering and that they should be in touch with local authorities.
President Joe Biden’s emergency declaration is expected to bring federal funding and resources to the flood’s victims. But there has been no sign of FEMA or the National Guard anywhere in the neighborhood. Promises of relief do not seem to have reached many of the primarily immigrant families that lost everything in the storm.
A half a block from the clamor of the BQE, photos of an extended family who immigrated from Guerrero, Mexico were laid out to dry on the sidewalk in front of their brick home. Seven members of the family had lived in an unregulated basement unit, with three others sharing an apartment on the floor above.
Carla Gomez, 26, saw water rushing into the basement on Wednesday. She raced downstairs to help her family members below escape, including her 10-month-old and 9-year-old nephews.
“In that moment, your mind is blank. You don’t know what to do,” Gomez said. “I wasn’t worried about material things. I just wanted to get the kids out. We couldn’t stop the water.”
Together they sloshed through knee-deep water, making it to safety on the floor above. Soon, the water was a foot shy of the basement apartment’s ceiling, reaching the third step of the front stoop a floor above.
“It happened in minutes; the water destroyed everything. We couldn’t get anything out,” she said. “We heard people screaming for help, but we couldn’t do anything.”
While some members of the family were staying at the homes of relatives, others continue to live in the waterlogged home. But they expects they’ll soon need to find new housing for all ten people.
Gomez said that they were among the lucky ones. Most of New York City’s 13 storm-related deaths occurred in basements similar to theirs. A block away, on the opposite side of the highway, two parents and their toddler were killed while trying to escape an unregulated basement apartment.
On Saturday, neighbors traded stories of close-calls, as well as coffee and beer and cleaning supplies. A Baptism brought pink balloons and incense to the neighborhood, a rare scene of joy amid the desolation.
The party’s host, Maricruz Velázquez, 39, recalled her downstairs neighbors’ desperate cries for help as their basement flooded. Their two apartments were separated by an internal staircase with a locked door neither family had a key to. They burst through the door with little time to spare.
“I don’t know how they broke the door,” she said. “It’s desperation, the water was rising. It came up to the ceiling of the basement.”
Down the block, an elderly man limped back to his home, barely able to walk. He said was used to driving, but his car has flooded in the storm and was now unusable.
As he reached his house and opened the door, the smell of mold emanated from the ground floor apartment that he shares with his older brother. Neither man had been able to remove the sopping wet furniture or rugs.
“Nobody comes to see me. No federal, city or state agency comes around to check on anybody. Why is that so?” he wondered, breaking down in tears. “What is the mayor doing? Answer me? What are you doing?”
This story was updated to include a comment from FEMA.