Advocates push for legislation, memorialize victims on anniversary of Hurricane Ida's basement tragedy

Two years ago, the devastating floodwaters of Hurricane Ida claimed the lives of 11 Queens residents living in basement apartments. Today, advocates are not only remembering those lost lives but are also pushing for legislation to protect homeowners from similar disasters.

Edric Robinson

Sep 6, 2023, 10:41 PM

Updated 227 days ago

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Two years ago, the devastating floodwaters of Hurricane Ida claimed the lives of 11 Queens residents living in basement apartments. Today, advocates are not only remembering those lost lives but are also pushing for legislation to protect homeowners from similar disasters.
"That night felt like a tsunami had hit us," said Queens resident Amit Shivprasad. 
Shivprasad and his family has lived in Hollis, Queens since 2003. He said he’s never seen that type of flooding before. During the chaos, Shivprasad's family friend lost their life when a basement wall collapsed.
"We had a family friend staying with us; my dad urged him to come up. They went back downstairs for some belongings, and that's when the wall collapsed," Shivprasad explains.
Cellphone footage shared by Shivprasad paints a grim picture of the flooding that overwhelmed his neighborhood. The foundations of three homes also collapsed, and approximately 35 feet of his own home's foundation washed away. His family friend was among the 11 Queens residents who perished in basement apartments.
"It's not something you'd ever wish on someone," Shivprasad reflects with a heavy heart.
Annetta Seecharram, the executive director of Chhaya, is determined to ensure that these victims are never forgotten. The community group organized a memorial banner that is currently making its way around to affected families, allowing them to leave messages for those who lost their lives and demanding answers from officials.
Seecharram says over 400,000 New Yorkers live in basement apartments but that not enough has been done to ensure their safety.
"No meaningful changes have occurred to address the problem of basements in New York City," said Seecharram. 
“The reality is that the city’s hands are tied. Until the state Legislature acts to allow the city to truly implement a program that would bring basements up to code,” said Seecharram. 
In response to these concerns, a city spokesperson acknowledged that climate change continues to cause more extreme storms threatening public safety and property damage. However, they emphasized significant progress in upgrading drainage and improving communication with New Yorkers for preparedness.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a statement to News 12 saying, “In the two years since the devastation of Hurricane Ida, Governor Hochul has been standing by her commitment to supporting New Yorkers impacted by extreme weather. In addition to relief programs to help families throughout New York impacted by major storms and flooding, she is making long-term resiliency and climate adaptation a top priority. Through initiatives like the Environmental Bond Act and HCR’s Accessory Dwelling Unit grant program, New Yorkers will be better protected before the next major weather event. Governor Hochul remains committed to working with residents and stakeholders to help New Yorkers build resilient communities.”
Shivprasad and his family undertook the costly task of rebuilding and retrofitting their basement, without government assistance.
"We've spent almost $400,000 that we don't have anymore," said Shivprasad.  "If there’s anything the state can give back to people who’ve taken those loans or even help modify those loans, it would help." 
Shivprasad hopes that the growing community memorial organized by Chhaya will serve as a powerful reminder to elected officials that these neighborhoods still need solutions.
"I hope it opens some eyes. It's two years later, and people are still being affected," said Shivprasad. 
The memorial banner will continue its journey to other communities impacted by Hurricane Ida. In addition to legislative changes, residents are also hopeful for financial assistance from the government to prevent similar tragedies in the future.


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