NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A day after showing President Joe Biden their storm-ravaged homes, families in Queens were back at work, continuing the massive cleanup.
CBS2’s Christina Fan was in East Elmhurst on Wednesday talking to residents about their conversations with the commander-in-chief.
The president said climate change is the reason for the destruction the area suffered due the remnants of Hurricane Ida. But families told CBS2 that for decades their basements have flooded whenever it rains. It happens so frequently, they have learned to place bricks on their toilet seats and to cap their bathroom drains to prevent sewage from spilling out.
Biden listened to the heartbreak the families endured during Ida as he toured the area on Tuesday. Then 24 hours later, there was a sign of change in the alley behind 87th Street. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection explained to residents how it plans to tackle the chronic flooding.
“They are looking into the sewers. They are going to clean the main lines at least in the streets for now, and then they are going to get back to us,” resident Ruth Turville said.
“I definitely feel that from what happened yesterday, with the officials coming over and the president, that they have to do something now, because they know that there’s eyes on the situation,” resident Eric Florenco said.
Family members said even when there is a little rain in the forecast, sewage backs up into their homes. However, the damage Ida caused was unprecedented.
David Parra’s basement and backyard were a total loss.
“I’m tired. Twenty years of doing this. I’ve got neighbors doing this for 40 years. I’m tired. I haven’t seen my family in six days,” Parra said.
The president said the damage he saw was a clear sign of global warming and pushed for the need to pass his infrastructure plan.
But Parra disagrees.
“This is a sewage problem. You have 240 families feeding a two-inch line in the back where the water has nowhere to go,” he said.
Political leaders vowed not to abandon these devastated neighborhoods, and they appear to be keeping their promise so far. Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and members of the Queens Congressional delegation held a virtual roundtable to call for the passage of the federal infrastructure bill.
“Make sure basic services like the sewer system, which is handling way more people than it was originally intended for, catch basins, the run-off water. Yes, we had a hurricane, but it shouldn’t have flooded basements,” Rep. Grace Meng said.
Not far from where Biden toured, some families said they can’t bear to part with their damaged belongings.
“I think I just need to sit here with it, give it time before I throw it out,” said Ivette Mayo of Woodside.
Mayo is home from the hospital after being diagnosed with norovirus and E. coli, she said she believes she contracted trying to save sewage-soaked photos.
“What I was doing was trying to salvage all the photographs from my album, so I was taking them out of the albums and we were stringing them in our living room,” Mayo said. “And they were sort of dripping everywhere and a lot of times I didn’t have gloves on and I was crying and I was wiping my face, and I did that from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. straight.”
With more rain in the forecast Wednesday night, Fan asked the families if they are concerned. They said for once they aren’t, because they have nothing left to save.
If you would like to help the residents of the impacted East Elmhurst neighborhood, a GoFundMe page has been set up. Please click here.
CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report.