Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn hit hard in historic New York City rainfall

Mayor Adams criticized for a "delayed and insufficient" response

September 29, 2023 Mary Frost
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New York City experienced a torrential and historic rainfall on Friday, and the National Weather Service reported early in the day that Brooklyn was one of the hardest hit boroughs.

As the first wave of Friday’s storm passed around noon, NWS said that 4-6 inches of rain had already fallen in Brooklyn, with an additional 2-4 inches possible. Rain in southern Brooklyn reached close to 7 inches by  mid-afternoon.

Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency for NYC, Long Island and Westchester County, as multiple reports of flooding — affecting Brooklyn neighborhoods like South Williamsburg, Gowanus, Red Hook, Crown Heights and East New York — were reported by NYC FloodNet. (FloodNet employs flood sensors developed at NYU and CUNY, as well as Community Flood Watch reports and photos submitted by residents.)

As the extent of the damage was becoming apparent Friday afternoon, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, urging the agency to stand ready to work with affected counties and make assistance available through a disaster declaration if requested “as expeditiously as possible.”

Brooklyn residents watch as workers attempt to clear a drain in flood waters, Friday, Sept. 29. AP Photo/Jake Offenhartz

Water poured down subway steps, flooded roads

Video posted on social media sites showed life-threatening amounts of water flooding streets and pouring into subways. In Park Slope, water cascaded like Niagara Falls down the steps of the subway station at Grand Army Plaza during the morning rush hour. In Greenpoint, the intersection of Kent Avenue at Franklin had waves. 

A video posted on X — formerly known as Twitter — by NYScanner  showed bus riders raising their feet as more than a foot of water swept through their bus traveling along inundated 18th Avenue and 60th Street.

The morning crowds at the A train station in Brooklyn Heights were told that trains were canceled, and it soon became apparent that it would be almost impossible to travel by subway in Brooklyn — or anywhere else in the city, for that matter  — as MTA reported full or partial shutdowns on the A, C, E, 2, 3, 4, 5, F, G, L, N, B, W, S, and almost every other line.  Numerous delays and cancellations were projected by the Long Island Railroad; and Hudson, Harlem and New Haven service was suspended in both directions between Manhattan and The Bronx.

“My entire office got stuck under the East River on the train and had to give up and go home,” William Griffith, a Williamsburg resident, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Maybe we need to take some cues from Venice,” he added.

Numerous alerts were issued throughout the day as people were warned not to drive or take buses due to surface road flooding. LaGuardia’s Terminal A was closed and major highways experienced flooding and partial shutdowns. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was closed for hours in Queens at Queens Blvd., and drivers reported the highway was “a mess.” 

First responders wade through flood waters at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge, Friday, Sept. 29 after the rush-hour rainstorm swamped New York City. AP Photo/Jake Offenhartz

Flooded basements, leaking roofs

Boreum Hill resident Michael (last name not used upon request) said his garden apartment was flooded with a foot of water and the basement was inundated.

The basement of Joe Coffee in DUMBO was flooded; Joe Coffee in Brooklyn Heights was also flooded, “But not as bad as DUMBO,” employees said.

Some neighborhoods had flooding issues caused by drains clogged by leaves and debris.

“Clogged drains on Sidney Place in Brooklyn Heights turned a parking area into a wading pool until the drain was cleared by the super,” Heights resident Jordan Tamagni told the Eagle.

According to Patch, people were trapped in a basement in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Madison Street between Thompson and Throop avenues on Friday about 9:30 a.m. “They were rescued without injuries, and were not transferred to an area hospital,” FDNY told Patch. 

If water didn’t attack from below, it leaked from above.

Zach Webb, a resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, told the Eagle, “I live in Bed-Stuy so I have no firsthand experience of the floodwaters, only a steady drip from my ceiling in the hallway.”

“K” (full name not used upon request), who works in Brooklyn Heights but lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was informed by his neighbors that the roof of his apartment building was leaking. He left work for home mid-day, uncertain what he would find when he arrived. 

This morning’s high tide and full moon likely exacerbated the flooding, Cobble Hill resident Jonathan Weber said. “The overflow sewer water goes into the Hudson or East Rivers and will significantly slow down during high tide. This can cause backups in your home,” he said. 

“One of the first signs of a pending problem (if you live on a lower floor) is a gurgling toilet or water backups in your tub or shower.  Whenever I have enough notice of heavy rains, I check the tide schedule,” he said.

A woman holds her umbrella as she speaks on the phone on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023 in Brooklyn. A potent rush-hour rainstorm swamped the New York metropolitan area on Friday, shutting down some subways and commuter railroads, flooding streets and highways, and delaying flights into LaGuardia Airport. AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

Some schools evacuate

P.S. 312 in Bergen Beach was evacuated, and at least 150 school buildings flooded, the Daily News reported. P.S. 312’s preschool and elementary-level kids were brought about three blocks away to I.S. 78 Roy H. Mann. NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks, speaking at a virtual press conference, said water had gotten into the boiler.

Other affected schools included the David A. Boody School/I.S. 228 on Avenue S in Gravesend, whose principal reportedly sent a message to parents to pick up their children, an action that Banks called “premature.”

DOE said on their website that the weekend’s outdoor activities would be moved indoors. 

A man works to clear a drain in flood waters, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Brooklyn. A potent rush-hour rainstorm has swamped the New York metropolitan area. The deluge Friday shut down swaths of the subway system, flooded some streets and highways, and cut off access to at least one terminal at LaGuardia Airport. AP Photo/Jake Offenhartz

City’s response questioned

Criticism of what was characterized as Mayor Eric Adams’ tardy emergency preparations began emerging midday.

Reporters on social media noted he was a half hour late to an emergency response presser held via Zoom — keeping even Hochul waiting. 

While Hochul had warned for days that the nasty weather was on its way, the Mayor’s Office merely forwarded a press release from Emergency Management at 11:08 p.m. on Thursday night, the Hell Gate website reported. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was scathing in his evaluation of what he called the mayor’s “delayed and insufficient” response to the emergency.

“From orange skies to flooded streets, a pattern is becoming clear – the administration has been delayed and insufficient in using the most effective tools in notifying New Yorkers about extreme weather emergencies which are only increasing in frequency. With schools opening only to immediately close, with roads rapidly closing and transit lines shutting down, it’s clear that there have been gaps in the city’s early rapid response to this storm, and those inadequacies can only be corrected if they are acknowledged,” he said in a release on Friday.

City residents and news outlets needed a mayoral press conference and notifications from Notify NYC before the storm began — not in the midst of it — Williams  said. He added that neither the city’s “physical or communications infrastructure are keeping up with the climate crisis and the dangerous conditions it will continue to create,” and a comprehensive strategy was called for.

Hochul in a statement, however, praised Adams’ response.

“I commend your leadership and the coordination between your team and our team at the state level,” she said during the delayed press conference.NYC Emergency Management encourages New Yorkers experiencing property damage as the result of the flash flooding to report it when safe to do so by filling out a damage information form here or calling 311.

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