Numerous homes were flooded with raw sewage over Thanksgiving weekend in Queens, New York. While Christmas and New Year’s approach, the City leaves residents with questions unanswered and homes still contaminated with hazardous waste.
The sewage filled homes in South Jamaica and South Ozone Park destroying everything it touched, including boilers, heating systems, and irreplaceable family mementoes.
Basements were filled ankle, knee, and door knob high with toxic waste forcing residents to leave their houses. Some still haven’t returned and might not be home for Christmas.
On the morning of November 30, homeowners awoke to the stench of raw sewage after a sewer main near John F. Kennedy International Airport became clogged for an undetermined reason.
One homeowner unknowingly stepped into the brown liquid that covered his basement floor. The City’s negligence in attending to the blockage and its mess continue to make matters worse.
Residents claim it took 12 hours for the DEP to respond to reports of the spillage.
Brave victims had to pump the sewage themselves or dump it into the streets until crews arrived to assist in clean-up efforts, posing a health risk for those on the streets.
Some refused to attempt cleaning up such hazardous waste without the proper safety tools. One couple was told they could not stay in the house but that they also could not leave the house because they had to monitor the sewage. They ended up sleeping in their car with blankets.
With no hot water and the terrible odor of raw waste hovering in the air, other residents were relocated to hotels.
The Red Cross and the Office of Emergency Management set up a service center to provide food and shelter to victims.
Some basements that were cleared of sewage flooded again a few days later, but now DEP workers have installed a bypass system to stop flooding.
The blockage itself has yet to be cleared as the pipe is deep underground. The DEP has not given a time estimate as to when the blockage will be cleared.
As for the sewage in the streets, DEP assures residents that a combination of rain and fire hoses will wash it away. They also assure residents that tap water is safe to drink, but use should be limited.
While people around the country celebrate a warm and joyful holiday at home, hundreds of Queen homeowners have to make do with the mess left for them by the City.
On Sunday, affected homeowners aired their grievances at a town hall meeting while Queens elected officials attempted to show support.
Residents remain unsatisfied with the clean-up efforts of contractors. Some contractors were asked to redo their job because it was not up to standards.
Homeowners wondered just how effective and thorough the cleaning could be, since sewage-soaked wood leading to the growth of black mold can pose a serious health risk.
While the short-term effects of flooding and exposure to sewage are the serious risk of illnesses and property damage, the long-term effects of flooding that is not properly dealt with include electrical damage, mold growth, rotting floors and walls, and a decrease in the property value of your home.
To avoid all this, damage must be repaired completely, professionally, and promptly. Contractors’ efforts to sanitize and replace heating systems are not coming fast enough.
“Of all of the people who have requested service, about half of those home have been cleaned,” said NYC Office Of Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell. “If you needed a boiler replaced or a hot water heater replaced, you should start seeing those being replaced [Tuesday].”
However, affected residents’ main grievances were about the city’s lack of responsibility in dealing with the pipe, impeding resident’s ability to file insurance claims and receive money for the damages.
“People don’t have 10 and 20,000 dollars in their pockets to lay out for this work, they don’t,” said affected resident Aracelia Cook.
The Red Cross and city-appointed liaisons are assisting affected residents in filing property damage claims and registering for other resources with the Comptroller’s office.
However, since investigators cannot analyze the underground portion of the clogged pipe to establish a cause of the spill, residents are unable to file insurance for claims.
Without insurance money, residents fear they will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages on their own.
“We are not asking for anything extra. I just want what I had,” said Queens resident Ricardo McKenzie.
Victims only have 90 days to file for insurance claims, and while the City seems to be taking their time and flouting responsibility, insurance companies will do what they do best: deny and confuse.
To them, victims are numbers, not parents and families subjected to a disaster that was completely out of their control- one that left them temporarily homeless, devastated, and in complete financial fear with no relief in the foreseeable future.
If you are one of the many affected by the sewer spill, Napoli Shkolnik PPLC can help.
We have experience advocating for victims of disasters, including those affected by Superstorm Sandy and the 2018 gas explosion in Massachusetts.
We are eager to represent homeowners who experienced property damage, injury, and displacement due to the sewer blockage and flooding.
Meet with attorney Stephen Holihan, who has experience advocating for victims of disaster and dealing with both insurance companies and the City of New York.
You don’t have to wait around for the City to give you answers or be a victim to the tactics that insurance companies use to confuse and refuse consumers.