Super Typhoon Ida, a storm stronger than the historic hurricane Katrina, made landfall in the United States 2 weeks ago, causing a lot of scary consequences. With winds up to nearly 250km/h, the storm broke down. many houses, electricity grids, water pipes, causing thousands of people to be displaced and dozens of people dead.
It is worth mentioning that the storm caused flood water to flood into big cities like New York. And in that flood, deadly traps were revealed.
Death from the basement apartments
In her ground-floor apartment, Deborah Torres was startled to see the water rise to her hips. At the same time, she heard a cry for help below. The cry came from the basement, where a young family and their 19-month-old baby lived.
But there was nothing Torres could do. She herself only knows how to do her best to get out of the 3-storey dormitory in Queens (New York). When water from Super Typhoon Ida hit the city on September 1, the basement would obviously be the first to sink. And with the house that Torres lives in, a Nepali-American family is stuck in a basement apartment that shouldn’t have been an apartment to live in.
The basement of Mr. Ang Gelu Lama’s house
Under the pressure of the water, neither the door nor the basement window could move. The sound of rushing water, howling was so loud that Torres gradually stopped hearing their cries for help.
It is the family of Mr. Ang Gelu Lama, with his wife Mingma Yangji Sherpa and 19-month-old child Lopsang. Their family died in the two-bedroom basement they called home. Police dived and found the bodies of all three at 3:30 a.m. on September 2.
Three miles away, Ernesto Moreno Aguirre lived with his wife and two children in one such apartment in East Elmhurst. The water had already risen to his calves, about to spill into the electrical outlet. Moreno understood that it was time to get out. He looked around, desperately trying to grab his late father’s shoes and urn – things he’d brought with him since he left Colombia for the US four years ago.
Water flooded Moreno .’s apartment
But time does not permit. Moreno had to find something else, something his family couldn’t afford to lose: a passport. As soon as he found it, he and his 17-year-old son – Daniel – climbed out quickly. His whole family was safe, but lost all his possessions.
When Super Typhoon Ida rained down on New York up to 7cm thick in just 3 hours, 49 people were killed in the Northeast. Streets flooded, traffic was paralyzed. In the city alone, 11 of the 13 deaths were found in basement apartments. In most cases, they have never been legally eligible to be converted into habitation.
Most of the deaths were among immigrants, arriving in New York from Trinidad, Nepal, and China. They mainly work as waitresses, kitchen assistants or employees in convenience stores. It means that renting a decent apartment in this city is too expensive for them, and the only option can be apartments… underground.
The story of indifference and despair
The stories of the victims in the basements of New York show both indifference and despair, of landowners who ignore the law, of a bureaucratic system that is overwhelmed when it comes to enforcing regulations. House. It is also a sad story for immigrants, leaving the hardships at home to find another hardship. They become families where all have to work more than one job that just barely pays for accommodation that is not even legal.
“Five out of six places where people died in New York because of the flood were illegal apartments in the basement,” – City Construction Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said. According to her, investigators after the storm went to inspect more than 1,000 apartments. They found many places that broke the rules, places that shouldn’t have been converted into housing like the Lama’s apartment.
In fact, the Department of Construction since 2005 has received complaints about the house Lama will live in a few years later and become a place of tragedy. The claim relates to inappropriate commercial use of the premises. But like many other cases, the complaint was dismissed because investigators were unable to enter the home. On September 2, when investigators arrived, they also reported that the building was shaking so badly after the flood that it was impossible to get inside.
Housing authorities in New York have known about these illegal underground apartments for decades, and are fully aware that they are death traps. There are at least 50,000 such establishments, most of which have only one aisle, no windows, and no fire protection equipment.
“At least 100,000 people – or a lot more – are living in such apartments,” – Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “Many people are also afraid to socialize, because they’re afraid of being evicted, or worst of all, deported.”
Even so, Mayor Bill said he would not kick people in the basement out of the house. Instead, he wants to use resources and funds from the city to help homeowners upgrade their basements to meet safety standards. With regulations in New York, basement apartments need to have windows and minimal space. However, many unfinished basements have been rented out by owners, despite never being certified by the city.
When the flood water came on the evening of September 1, the people living in the basement had to fend for themselves. They cried for help, called their neighbors, called the police. Some escaped on their own. Some were rescued from people upstairs, or from police and firefighters.
But there are people who are stuck, forever.
Ragendra Shivprasad – owner of a dormitory in Hollis Street (Queens) went down to the basement at least twice on the night of September 1. “Watch out, there could be a flood,” – he said to a family living inside.
The rain poured down heavily, the sewer pipes popped open, the water sprayed up to meters high. At Shivprasad’s house, there was a loud explosion and then suddenly water flooded all sides of the house.
The basement apartment is where Phamatee Ramskriet (43 years old) and her son Khrishah Ramskriet (22 years old). They were packing up to run away when the wall collapsed and water flooded in. Both were drowned, drowned.
Mr. Shivprasad said he had made sure that the basement apartment had 3 entrances and a waterproof door. His son – Amit Shivprasad said that no preparation could withstand such a disaster. “It’s a tragedy from Mother Nature,” – he lamented.
But for the neighbors of the house, this tragedy was actually foretold. “I may have been a victim,” – quotes Amrita Bhagwandin, who lives in the house opposite. After the 2007 flood, she called the town hall to repair the water tanks in case of heavy rain.
In 2020, the construction of a drainage system to prevent floods has been carried out, but not enough. Bhagwandin thinks the city should deal with the flood protection system, instead of focusing on illegal underground apartments. Because most of the people living there are immigrant families with minimal income.
“If you send them away, where will they go?” – Amit Shivprasad asked, and said that the Ramskriet family has lived there for more than 15 years.
Flood victims, each with their own story. Ang Gelu Lama came to the US from Nepal 14 years ago, and only planned his development path a few years ago, said Ang Phurba Lama, a close family friend.
Mr. Ang Gelu has worked many jobs with low wages. Five years ago, he got married after his compatriot wife came to America. “We were trying to save money to realize the American dream. That’s why he lived in such an apartment, to reduce the cost of rent.” When the epidemic hit the US, Mr. Ang Gelu had to quit his job at a 7-Eleven store. His wife worked for a hotel, fortunately kept the job. Then the tragedy happened.
Ernesto Moreno Aguirre, who had to work two jobs – as a construction worker and a dishwasher – chose the basement apartment in East Elmhurst because it was cheap, and didn’t require too many legal documents. That fateful night Mr. Moreno was faced with choices. It was his father’s shoes and urn, a laptop and a phone – a means of communicating with relatives in Colombia… But they could only find their passport – the most important thing for the whole family, cut off the power and climbed up. hurry out. If he lost his passport, Moreno could lose his job and fall into dire straits.
A block away, William Hurtado was watching TV in the basement with his 18-year-old daughter when the floodwaters hit. They hurriedly took the ice box and stuffed it with important papers, wallets and cell phones.
But the water continued to rise. It reached the knee, then at midnight it reached the chin. “It’s like a dam burst,” – Hurtado, an immigrant from Venezuela said. “I thought me and my baby were going to die.”
The father and son escaped through the door, carrying the important marinade box. They climbed onto the roof of a pickup truck, shouting for help. But no one can help. They only had to find a way to climb up to the 2nd floor balcony of their building. Just jump from the roof of the car onto the tarp of the awning, and then find your way up.
Hurtado lifted his daughter first. But in turn, he slipped, about to fall into the fast-moving water. “Fortunately a neighbor showed up, grabbed my hand and pulled me up,” – Hurtado recalled the terrifying moment.
The flood caused Hurtado to lose almost all of his possessions. His son lives with his girlfriend and so does his 1-year-old daughter in the apartment next door.
“We worked so hard to live here. Now we’re starting over,” Francisco sighed.
Source: Washington Post