The passage of the tropical storm Going For New York it has not only left a trail of death and destruction, it has also revealed the precariousness that hides in the capital of the world; the dramatic reverse of neon claims and skyscrapers. A dozen deaths – the majority in the mestizo district of Queens – and countless material damages constitute the bill to be paid for a hidden, parallel reality: the existence of innumerable low houses converted into substandard housing, unhealthy or precarious accommodation, of doubtful legality, in basements that in many cases they do not go beyond cat flats, when not zulos, with windows at street level through which a child would hardly pass. Stays with little control or supervision from the Housing Department; informal arrangements between landlords and tenants.
In one of those low, in Woodside, one of the neighborhoods of Queens, the three members of a family died Wednesday drowned: the couple and a 19-month-old baby. “It was seen and not seen, everything happened in a minute, it was impossible to react,” explained this Friday Kumchoo Sherpa, a Nepalese immigrant like the victims and a resident on the third floor of the building. “My parents were at home and they were paralyzed with panic from the flood, I was working. The water poured into the basement, because the force of the rain was joined by the fact that the building is at the end of a steep hill, topped by a concrete wall that separates the street from the highway. That is why the water overflowed and entered the house with even more fury. The woman called the landlady for help by mobile, and she yelled at her: ‘Get out of there, get out of there now!’ But after a minute no one answered the phone. The three of them had drowned, the water had reached the ceiling ”.
Sherpa is still shocked, a few meters from the den that became a tomb, in the cul-de-sac where a police car and another from the Housing Department were guarding this Friday. In the courtyard, the stars and stripes flag hung at half mast, along with a couple of posters with the slogan “God blesses our troops”(God bless our troops). A garland of Buddhist banners strung the fence, as a sign of identity of the neighbors. The landlady, also Nepalese, remained locked inside the building. In the garage of the adjoining building, a row of sandbags propped up the metal gate, semi-torn by the impact of the waterspout. But just 100 meters up the street, the thoughts of a beautiful flower bed allowed us to think that Wednesday night was a bad dream. Just as misfortune goes through neighborhoods – New York knows this well – the stratigraphy of fortune corresponds to the social scale: the lower, the closer the misfortune.
The few neighbors who ventured through the streets of Woodside this Friday refused to answer questions. But Faruk, an amiable immigrant from Guyana, confirmed that many like him, a garbage man by profession, live in narrow basements “because you have to live somewhere, rents are very expensive in New York.” “My house has no more ventilation than the front door, and we saw how the water came down the stairs, look,” he says, showing a video of the flooding of his home, in Jamaica, another neighborhood of Queens, for which he pays $ 1,500 a month. “Although it is very dark because it has no windows, this time we were grateful that there was only one hole where the water could seep in. Fortunately, right in front of the entrance, the landlord has a kind of storage room, which stopped and diverted part of the flow, and only a trickle of water leaked into my house. As soon as it stopped raining, he stopped going in. “
At least 45 deaths in four states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut) is the human balance of the tail blows of Going. A congruent tragedy in any of the little ranches that crowd the outskirts of the great Latin American cities, but as strident as it is inexplicable in the Big Apple. President Joe Biden approved the declaration of a state of emergency in New York and New Jersey on Thursday and ordered the delivery of federal aid. In New Jersey, the death toll rose to 25 today, after two bodies were found in the mud and debris, while six people are still missing. At noon on Friday, more than 14,000 homes were still without power between New York and New Jersey, in addition to another 20,000 in Pennsylvania.
The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, announced a reinforcement of the alert system and the evacuation operation when the weather forecast recommends it, with officials door-to-door alerting residents in “neighborhoods with high concentrations of residential basements.” The notice itself is a tacit assumption of the underground existence of tens of thousands of New Yorkers. Kathy Hochul, the governor of the State of New York – where at least fifteen deaths have been registered in total – pointed out this Friday that the balance of damages will far exceed 30 million dollars, the threshold required for the federal government to approve the declaration of catastrophic zone and loosen more money to compensate the losses of individuals and the damages to the infrastructures.
Like Marcos ‘belongings, Carlos Soto’s thirty-year-old son, a tenant in a basement under his parents’ home, at the other end of Woodside. “He lost everything, the appliances, the clothes, his memories. But at least he preserved his life, ”explains Soto. “Do you know where to get help? My son lost his job due to the pandemic and has been left with nothing now ”, asks the man, along with two neighbors who, made up of a willful crew of workers, carry their few household tools in plastic buckets to help out with repairs. . Two blocks away, a couple of district park and garden service vans give shovels and rakes a break, mobilized also for emergency.
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