Ida 1 year later: NYC offering protective storm water barriers, but not everyone convinced they’ll work

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NEW YORK — On Sept. 1 of last year, central Queens suffered devastating effects of record rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. A dozen people in that area were killed and localized damage was in the hundreds of millions.

As CBS2’s Mary Calvi reported Tuesday, the city is stepping up with some new protective measures, but some residents are wondering if they will be enough.

READ MORE: Ida 1 year later: Checking back with families whose basement apartments flooded  

They were the indelible images of Ida. The flood damage was catastrophic. The loss of life, including those who drowned in basement apartments, was almost incomprehensible.

This year, in advance of the busiest part of the storm season, the city is offering what it is calling a stop-gap measure.

“It’s a start and anything helps. At least the city is doing something,” homeowner Edward Lempel said.

Part of what the city is doing is giving away flood barriers — inflatable dams to stop or divert storm water — to about 20,000 at-risk homes across the five boroughs.

READ MORE: Ida 1 year later: CBS2 visits district in New Jersey, where some schools haven’t been open in 2 years due to pandemic and storm   

Lempel lives in Fresh Meadows, Queens. His basement was a mess after Ida. He showed Calvi the water line outside the house.

Inside, Lempel’s wife, Susan, showed an even higher mark.

“When I opened the door, and I kept seeing the water getting higher and higher,” Susan Lempel said.

Her thoughts on thee barriers to stop potential flooding?

“I laughed. I was waiting for the rest of it,” Susan Lempel said.

However, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala says the pilot program can possibly be a game changer.

“DEP is reaching out to offer you the opportunity to get some new technology. Again, it’s a Band-Aid. But there’s some of these inflatable devices that basically create a barrier. You fill it with water and it becomes a temporary dam in front of your property,” Aggarwala said.

The city sent letters to eligible homes for the free flood barriers.

“The support has been significant and been very positive. I think our electeds know we cannot … we are simply not going to be able to fix our infrastructure in the timeframe that climate change is occurring,” Aggarwala said.

Critics of the dams say the barriers can be trip hazards for those who may need to evacuate, or be difficult for some to fill and have in the proper place. Susan Lempel is skeptical.

“They’re not going to help,” she said.

Queens City Councilman James Gennaro, who also chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection, came to see for himself. He said it’s imperative that both long- and short-term measures be employed.

“I am very worried, which is why we’re making this known to our constituents, making it known that it’s available. If they can’t get one for free from DEP, they should consider getting one,” Gennaro said.

READ MORE: How businesses suffering post-Ida got unexpected help   

Other localized stop-gap measures include rainfall gardens designed to absorb thousands of gallons of water, and an increased city effort to keep storm drains clear, smaller measures that officials hope will help safeguard property and life when the next storm comes.

“Once the rain starts, if you have the ability to get out there and fill it up, you can still make a difference in protecting yourself,” Gennaro said.   

The Lempels say one inch of water on the street equals about 18 inches in their sloped driveway. The hope is that barrier can stop it at the street level.

“Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But we have to do something. And we have to do it right now,” Gennaro said.

For those not designated in the giveaway, the barriers are commercially available.

For more information about the city’s Rainfall Ready Program, please click here.

For more on inflatable dams, please click here.

To see city interactive storm maps, please click here.

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