Months after Ida’s flood in New York City, some residents still don’t have a real vacation home


By Rachel Ramirez, CNN Photographs by Bryan Anselm / Redux for CNN

(CNN) – Mario Gamiño was awakened by the panicked bark of his pet cockapoo. When he got up he realized that the water was rising rapidly in his basement apartment in Flushing, Queens, so he immediately shook his wife to wake her up.

In a matter of minutes, Ida’s floodwaters washed away almost everything. Their belongings were damaged and the tiny $ 1,200 a month apartment they bought themselves as housekeepers was ruined. Gamiño and Bibiane Chamorro, along with their dog Lily, narrowly escaped their lives as the deadly storm swept through New York City on September 1.

“It was terrible for us,” Chamorro told CNN. “The first few days, I cried a lot.

Now, with the holidays approaching, Chamorro, 53, said she and her 61-year-old husband are still in pain. “We are traumatized,” she said.

More than three months after the remnants of Hurricane Ida clubbed new york city with record precipitation who submerged basements and killed more than a dozen people, displaced residents such as Chamorro and Gamiño are still living in temporary housing and awaiting the arrival of federal aid.

The storm devastated many working-class immigrant communities in the city, which were already reeling from cascading crises such as the lack of affordable housing, inaccessible healthcare, the Covid-19 pandemic and the worsening impacts of climate change that fueled Ida.

Survivors CNN spoke to said that since September, more than a dozen families have been living temporarily in a Radisson hotel in Queens, near one of the busiest airports in the world and in a location barely accessible by the sprawling New York subway.

Residents have also had to deal with uncertainty over their temporary living situation: days before Thanksgiving, for example, city officials ordered families displaced from the Radisson to move a borough to a shelter in Brooklyn. The move reportedly disrupted their daily routines for commuting to school and work.

“It’s just an untenable situation, knowing not only that they have lost everything but that their usual routines have been completely disrupted,” Senator Jessica Ramos, who represents the most affected neighborhoods in Queens, told CNN.

Ramos was granted an extension to keep families longer. She said the goal is to find them permanent housing, a difficult proposition since the average rent for a 700 square foot one bedroom apartment in Queens is over $ 2,600 per month.

“Some of these families are having children and still have to return to their home neighborhoods to go to school every day, which means they sleep less,” she said. “Never mind the stress of the unknown and not knowing what was going to happen to them.”

And in the midst of giving season, anxiety and trauma increases for these survivors. For Gamiño and Chamorro, who used to celebrate the holidays, they said giving and celebrating are now out of the question given their circumstances.

“Everything is different,” Chamorro said, as she stood in the corner of their hotel room. Their minimal possessions spoke of what they had lost in the storm.

“[Ida] has completely changed our lives, and we are trying to start our lives over. “

A traumatic experience

Chamorro, who emigrated from Colombia, still has nightmares about her near-death experience, when floodwaters slowly push her and her husband Gamiño, from Mexico, against their basement ceiling. by Flushing.

Swimming out, carrying their pet Lily, she banged her head hard at the top of the door. It was so painful that she let go of the dog and Chamorro sank in the water. Gamiño, who was in front of her, dove into the muddy waters, struggled to push the floating objects out of the house, and pulled his wife out.

“It saved my life,” said Chamorro, who swallowed raw sewage and had to be hospitalized that night after falling seriously ill with nausea and diarrhea. Lily, their dog, survived and came out of the water shaking.

Nancy Pico, 49, from Ecuador, had lived in Woodside, Queens, for about 22 years. Now staying temporarily at the Radisson Hotel, she said she was still moved by what she witnessed the night Ida struck.

“It always reminds me of it,” Pico told CNN. “Every time I come home, here, and think about it, it makes me sad.”

She lived on the second floor of the same building where her neighbors, a Nepalese immigrant couple and their 2-year-old son, were found dead after drowning inside their basement apartment during Ida’s historic flood.

Pico, who battles breast cancer, only knew his neighbors by passing. But the mother of the 2-year-old, Mingma Sherpa, knew Pico was sick and offered to help her if she needed anything, she said.

When Ida knocked and Pico saw floodwaters seep into the main building, she knew her basement neighbors were in trouble. She said she called friends and begged the police and fire department until it was too late.

Pico said officials waited for the waters to recede into the streets, but when they managed to pass, “It was too late. They are dead.”

Most of Ida’s deaths occurred in basement flooding. City officials later revealed that most of these basements had been illegally converted in rental properties, landlords are marketing them at lower prices to attract low-income residents. Now, many displaced families have nowhere to go, as they either lived in one of these basements or their homes were infested with mold.

When Francisco Carrillo’s basement apartment in Astoria was flooded after the storm, the 35-year-old student refused to return due to environmental hazards. The water rose up to her calves and eventually prepared the apartment to grow mold, produce an unpleasant odor, and deteriorate completely.

Carillo arrived in the United States from Ecuador on a student visa and is not allowed to work, making it difficult for him to secure housing due to lack of income. Unlike the other guests at the Radisson, Carillo moved to the Brooklyn shelter where other Ida survivors are staying temporarily because it was more convenient for him. His goal, however, is to be able to work.

“I love studying, but I wish I could work to improve my situation,” Carillo told CNN. “I’m like in the middle of this hole, I can’t do nothing. I want to be positive but I don’t have a job and you get sick sometimes, you have to buy food, and you have to have to get new clothes. It’s difficult. “

Pico said after her stay at the Radisson expired, she planned to return home – not to Queens, but to her family in Ecuador.

“I don’t think I can live there anymore, because I remember what happened,” she said.

Disaster recovery shakes up traditions

Less than a 10-minute drive from John F. Kennedy International Airport, but far away from the hustle and bustle and skyscrapers of Manhattan in New York City, the Radisson Hotel in Queens has become home to surviving families.

As a single mother, Eileen Bendoyro, 52 and a former teacher, decided to stop working for a while to care for her 13-year-old son, Christopher, who goes to school all the way to Long Island. City, one hour from the school bus.

Bendoyro’s basement apartment in East Elmhurst was flooded, destroying almost everything she owned. The refrigerator tipped over, the clothes were soaked in sewage, and the electronics, including her son’s school laptop and game console, were gone.

Around the corner from Bendoyro’s apartment, President Joe Biden and other public officials spoke to the media when he visited the neighborhood to assess Ida’s impacts.

But for Bendoyro and the rest of the families still displaced by Ida, a visit from the president and the federal help they received were not enough to get their lives back on track.

“Nothing has changed; it’s still the same situation,” Bendoyro told CNN. “With climate change, they have to change the system.”

Marccus Hendricks, Assistant Professor in Urban Studies and Director of Stormwater infrastructure resilience and justice laboratory at the University of Maryland, said the problem is that most recovery activity occurs in the first year after a disaster, then slows down considerably subsequently, leaving households in a “perpetual state of recovery and displacement” which affects all aspects of their lives, including the celebration of vacations.

“When it comes to disasters, we tend to focus too much on disaster recovery in the context of rebuilding structures as opposed to restoring social systems and processes,” Hendricks told CNN. “Traditions, social capital, networking and celebrating the holidays are part of re-establishing these social systems and processes, but we don’t focus on those things.”

While Bendoyro has said she still has ways to give her son a present, she knows this holiday season will be different. The climate crisis has turned many lives upside down.

“The holidays this year are more emotional,” she said. “People have lost their lives because of the hurricane, the Covid pandemic and even now what happened in Kentucky. It’s sad.”

Like the Flushing couple, Woodside survivor Pico has said she will not be celebrating the holidays this year. “We don’t have a place to cook,” she said.

“This time it’s very sad,” Carillo said. “I thought that over time you would feel better, but I’m a little emotional.”

During Thanksgiving, State Senator Ramos sponsored a dinner for Radisson survivors. This Christmas, she hopes to spend time with the families again.

“We hope to get together for the holidays,” Ramos said. “I want to make sure that at least the children can have a vacation that makes them smile, despite all the hardships they and especially their parents may go through.”

Chamorro and Gamiño, the couple who survived the basement flooding in Flushing, plan to leave the Radisson during Christmas week.

After losing everything they had to the flooding, Chamorro said they had finally found a place to stay, but still had to start from scratch, starting with buying a mattress and other necessities.

“Finding a place for us is very difficult in New York,” she said. “But I thank God that we have a new place and that we are alive.”

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