NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday saw first-hand the devastation left behind by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
The president met with local lawmakers and homeowners who lost everything last week to flood waters.
In all, he made three stops — first in New Jersey where he visited Hillsborough and Manville and later in New York City he witnessed the destruction in Queens, CBS2’s Christina Fan reported.
Happening Now: President Biden delivers remarks from Queens, New York on the Administration’s response to storm damage from Ida. https://t.co/NkFzvWMcyp
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 7, 2021
The president’s trip to East Elmhurst centered on an alley near 87th Street that was inundated with seven feet of water.
“Waves crashed through the streets here, testing the aging infrastructure and taking lives. More lives were taken here than down in Louisiana,” Biden said of the death toll in New York City.
One of his key talking points — climate change and the need for better infrastructure — is what families say failed them during Ida.
“We started with little towels. At three feet, we give up. At seven feet, just went to the front of the house and prayed,” resident Tina Jimenez said.
Jimenez was one of the many residents desperate to share her story. The basement of her home chronically floods — so much so, she moved her outlets three feet off the floor.
“The water keeps coming in like a tsunami,” she says on cellphone video from last week.
But Ida pummeled the area with so much rain, the water eventually submerged most of her staircase. The force of the current broke down her bathroom door.
Watch Christina Fan’s report —
Residents from 86th to 88th street said they’ve waited years for the city to fix the drainage system.
“In the back alleyways we are not connected to the sewer system. So whenever it rains, the water just sits there,” Mangot Karu said.
“It’s so costly that we cannot do it ourselves. That is why we need the help,” Norma Jimenez added.
Local leaders say infrastructure improvements are especially critical because many families can only afford to live in low-lying basement apartments. The majority of the 13 city residents who lost their lives during Ida lived in such units.
“We are asking President Biden during his visit today to hopefully see the urgency of a green new deal in order for workers to update our infrastructure so that our sewage system can actually keep up with increasing populations and actually be able to service and work the way it should be,” state Sen. Jessica Ramos said.
The president said he understands the urgency and is determined to come up with a solution.
“I know these disasters are not going to stop. They are going to come with more frequency and ferocity. And I’ve said, I’m working with Congress to pass two important pieces of legislation — a bipartisan plan to modernize our physical infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our power transmission, our distribution lines,” Biden said.
Tina Jimenez said the president’s visit, similar to Gov. Kathy Hochul‘s over the weekend, gives residents hope change is coming, but added, ultimately, actions will speak louder than words.
“We are hesitant to be optimistic because what if it’s just a visit. We need the actual help,” she said.
Nearby Woodside was also hit hard during the storms.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reports, almost every house has piles of moldy furniture and trash out front, and that’s after the sanitation trucks made at least five pickups since the storm.
Behind each pile of trash is family with their own unique story of survival and loss.
“I was being attacked by the water from this direction, this direction and this direction, so there was, like, a whirlpool action going on here,” Danette Rivera said.
Rivera was trapped in her Woodside basement Wednesday night when it began to flood. She could not hoist herself up to the window to escape, but as the water rose above her head, Rivera’s son, who is blind, heard her screams through his bedroom window.
“My son grabs my right arm and swoop me out. In one swoop, I was out of the window,” she said.
The bruises from wriggling through are a small price to pay for her life.
“Had my son not been home, I think this would’ve been a different story to tell,” Rivera said.
Around the block, Ivette Mayo is home from the hospital after being diagnosed with norovirus and E. coli.
“Saturday night, I started developing symptoms,” she said.
She believes she got sick from the sewage water that flooded her basement.
“What I was doing is trying to salvage all the photographs from my albums, so I was taking them out of the albums and we were stringing them in our living room,” Mayo said. “And they were dripping everywhere, and a lot of times, I would, you know, I didn’t have gloves on, and I was crying and I was wiping my face, and I think that that’s what… and I did that from, like, 6 a.m. to, like, 11 p.m. straight.”
Even after that, she still cannot bring herself to toss the remaining mementos.
“I think I just need to sit here with it, give it time before I throw it out,” Mayo said.
A third neighbor, Jabed Ahmed, is still sleeping on his wet mattress. It’s all his family has left.
The flood totaled his car, and since Ahmed works as an Uber driver, he’s also out of a job.
“Right now, I don’t know what I should do,” he said.
During his visit to Queens on Tuesday, the president said the devastation is proof climate change is real and the country has to act now. The work is urgent, he says, because 1 in 3 Americans live in a county that recently experienced severe weather.
CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report.