NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Saturday marks one year since a massive sewage backup in Queens that turned the lives of dozens of residents upside down.
Sewage flooded at least 74 homes in South Ozone Park last November after a 42-inch pipe crumbled.
The backup destroyed property, left behind a stench and is being blamed for mold growing inside some homes. Many say they have yet to be adequately compensated for their trouble.
Janice Harmon’s home was one of the dozens flooded with raw sewage, and she told CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon she still feels like she’s living in a nightmare.
“Disgusted, heartbroken,” she said.
The massive backup forced Harmon out of her home for months and resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
“I had to get rid of everything and get all new mattresses, pillows, clothing,” she said.
A frustrated Harmon adds months after filing a claim, she was recently offered a maximum of around $10,000 in compensation from the city comptroller’s office — just a small fraction of her costs.
Harmon isn’t the only resident feeling cheated.
Several gathered Saturday to say they’ve received little or no compensation from the city comptroller’s office.
“Twelve months ago, the sewage flooded this community. Twelve hours, we waited for DEP to respond. Twelve months later, some residents are still in the situations they’re in today. Their basements are in ruins and some still do not have settlements,” said Khari White, president of the South Ozone Park Civic Association.
“I have to fund the repairs on my own, fixing up the house and maxing out my credit cards and defaulting mortgages,” homeowner Rishad Mubarak said.
Community leaders say the response from the city comptroller’s office has been inadequate.
“This is a working-class, tax-paying community of color,” city Council Member Adrienne Adams said. “The extended inaction for the residents of South Ozone Park continues to compound their state of despair.”
The city comptroller’s office says it has been working diligently since day one to help impacted residents. It says so far, it’s offered settlements for 85% of the claims brought before its office.
MORE (12/2/2019) — Demanding Answers: Why Did 311 Fail The Victims Of The Queens Sewage Flood?
But a group of lawyers representing impacted residents say many people felt forced to accept undervalued offers.
“People have accepted claims under duress. They’ve accepted claims that are not just,” said Natalie Bump Vena, with the South Ozone Park Sewage Legal Assistance Project.
The lawyers are asking the comptroller’s office to reassess claims.
Meanwhile, residents like Harmon who have yet to settle hope the pressure forces the city comptroller’s office to hand out offers that are more fair.
“We’re begging them for money because this happened. Do you think I want them in my life?” Harmon said.
Residents say the sewage backup wasn’t their fault, so it’s up to the city comptroller’s office to help them properly rebuild their lives.
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