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How a sewer flood changed life in Queens


Weather: Chance of rain today with a maximum in the low 50s. Temperatures will dip into the low 40s this evening. Saturday and Sunday will be partly cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s.

Parking on the alternate side: In force until April 29 (Maundy Thursday, Orthodox).


Days after Thanksgiving in 2019, Mark Prescott and his mother, Barbara, were forced to evacuate their home after a sewage flood left it uninhabitable.

Their home was one of 127 in South Ozone Park, Queens to be submerged in rivers of raw sewage. The Prescotts moved into a motel, while other families slept in cars. And some have lost most of their belongings.

The city eventually accepted responsibility for the problems caused by a collapsed sewer pipe. But more than 16 months later, some residents say they are still waiting for help.

[Read more about the flooding and its lasting effects.]

Here’s what you need to know about the problem:

The flooding was first blamed on residents who poured cooking grease down the drain. But once the real cause was revealed, the city promised to help.

About $ 1.1 million has been paid, and about a quarter of claims remain unresolved, according to the city’s comptroller’s office, which manages the process. But some locals told my colleague Katie Van Syckle that the city had moved slowly or had not offered sufficient compensation for the repairs.

Today, 19 people have filed a joint complaint and 15 other families are represented by pro bono lawyers. One of the plaintiffs, Mr. Prescott, suffered a tragic loss after moving into the motel. Her mother fell at the scene last spring, was admitted to hospital and died in April last year after contracting the coronavirus.

Mr Prescott said he couldn’t afford repairs until he received payment from the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary blamed the comptroller’s office for the delays. A spokeswoman for Scott M. Stringer, the city’s comptroller, said the office had worked quickly but recognized the consequences “underscored systemic inequalities.”

The neighborhood is home to many middle-class families of color – a status that eludes many New Yorkers, especially blacks and Latin Americans.

But since the sewage flood, families say the generational wealth they thought they were building has shrunk to next to nothing. Many homes are in disrepair, and some families have taken on credit card debt or raided retirement funds to pay their bills.

“I don’t think if it had happened in a white neighborhood it would have happened that way,” said Janice Harmon, one of the owners, who is black.

The incident illustrates how infrastructure outages, coupled with an inadequate government response, can have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, said Natalie Bump Vena, professor of urban studies at Queens College. “It’s a problem of environmental racism,” she said.



Melissa Guerrero of The Times writes:

Although many performance spaces, museums and community centers are closed, people are finding creative ways to connect through virtual events and programs. Here are some suggestions for maintaining a New York social life this weekend while keeping a safe distance from others.

At Friday at 7 p.m., attend a cabaret with queer New York-based performers and performers.

Buy a ticket ($ 10) on the event page.

Watch the poets recite their poems about injustices on Saturday at 7 p.m. Participants can also join the post-performance discussion and open the microphone.

Register for free on the event page.

At Saturday at 8 p.m. join Asian-American artists for a live comedy show about the midlife triumph. The program will pay tribute to New York’s Chinatown and photographer Corky Lee.

RSVP on the event page.

It’s Friday – get ready for the weekend.


Dear Diary:

I was in New York for a whirlwind visit. I saw an old friend and spent the night with my brother. My plan for the next day was to attend a photography exhibit at the Met, then take a 3-hour train back to Boston.

Upon arriving at the museum, I was intercepted on the steps by a security guard. He told me I could go in, but not my travel bag.

I was determined not to miss this particular exhibit. Seeking inspiration for a solution to my situation, I wandered around the block several times and had a second breakfast at a grocery store.

Then it happened to me: I decided to ask a doorman in a building in the neighborhood if he was watching my suitcase for a few hours while I was at the museum.

Taking a chance, I chose a small building where the doorman looked reasonably friendly and explained my predicament to him.

He said he didn’t have a place to put the bags, but then he paused and took a long look at me while still considering my request.

I had to pass the rally because he said he would hold my suitcase in his car, which was parked just across the street.

In a leap of faith, I handed him the suitcase and a tip, and left.

A few hours later, I returned to the building to find that “my” doorman was nowhere to be found.

Do not worry. The man who was now on duty had his colleague’s keys and he retrieved my bag from the car.

– Phil Nachman


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