NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Queens residents in dozens of households are dealing with a sewage crisis this holiday weekend.
City officials said a blocked 42-inch pipe near John F. Kennedy International Airport is to blame for flooding 74 homes.
On Sunday, CBSN New York’s Tara Jakeway spoke to residents affected by the flooding.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know who to talk to. I’m lost,” homeowner Leron Harmon said.
Harmon is one of more than 200 South Ozone Park residents whose homes were flooded by sewage water over the holiday weekend.
“I lost a complete furnished basement full of everything — clothing, television. I have a bathroom, sink, refrigerator, everything. It’s all demolished right now,” Harmon said.
A blocked sewer main pushed human waste into Harmon’s home and others within a 15-block radius late Friday into early Saturday.
“It just is a horrible way to spend the holidays,” Harmon said.
City authorities have said people pouring an abundance of grease down drains during Thanksgiving may be to blame. But Harmon’s neighbor said he isn’t buying it.
“I mean, come on, cooking grease?” Ricardo McKenzie said.
McKenzie worked his whole life to buy his first home, which is now in the center of the sewage crisis.
His wife, 4-year-old son and parents have now all been displaced.
“My heart goes out to him, but we are all together, so hopefully we can weather this storm,” Juliet McKenzie said.
“Everyone’s sort of placing the blame here and there,” Ricardo McKenzie added.
Navila Meem said it took 12 hours for the city to show up after she called 311. She said she felt the need to stay and supervise the DEP’s work because the sewage levels kept rising and falling in her basement.
“I thought once the basement was drained it would stay drained and now I wake up and I look at the basement and I see water in it. Why is there water in it? That shouldn’t happen,” Meem said.
At a meeting Sunday afternoon at Public School 223, the newly set up crisis headquarters, city leaders seemed to do just that.
“Where is Scott Stringer? He should be here to answer your questions about finances, where you should go from here,” City Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said of the current city comptroller.
While angry residents demanded answers.
“People slept in cars. Kids slept in cars. We can’t do that all week. That’s not okay,” one person said.
The Red Cross took down names as it scrambled to provide hotel rooms for the 82 families that had already signed up.
“As the repairs to clear that blockage continue tonight and through tomorrow, we’ll hopefully have most of that issue resolved and folks shouldn’t see water in their basement in another day or two,” DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said.
Listening to that unclear timeline in the front row of the meeting was Richard Mubarak, who had just purchased his Inwood Street home on Tuesday.
“Friday night, I get the keys and Saturday morning, when I come in here, the basement was flooded and I can’t come in because the whole house stinks,” Mubarak said.
That was the first time he had seen the home since he wrote a check for it. Now his plans have changed.
Mubarak had a dream that one day his family of five would sit around their table in this brand new dining room, but for now that dream will have to remain on hold.
The DEP said it’s helping homeowners fill out property damage claim forms, but residents wanted to know who would help with cleanup.
“We all went to the meeting and they were like we don’t really have answers because the people who are supposed to give the answers aren’t here,” one person said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter on Sunday evening and said the city will work with residents and insurance companies to get claims resolved as quickly as possible.