How Do We Prevent Flooding and Damage in Bushwick Like What Happened During Ida?

On September 1st around 8 p.m., Bushwick resident Christian Cotrina thought he was in for a typical Wednesday evening, watching TV in his apartment on the corner of Knickerbocker and Dekalb Avenues.

But about an hour later, he noticed an unusual amount of cars honking. When he opened the window and stuck his head out to see what was going on, he was shocked to see his block underwater. 

“I saw cars floating on Knickerbocker Avenue,” Cotrina said. “It actually got flooded – I would say – in 30 minutes, which is super fast. Some people were stranded there. Some people were in disbelief, in their cars still.”

When Hurricane Ida plowed through New York City – killing at least 13 New Yorkers, shutting down the entire subway system and causing devastating flooding citywide – Bushwick wasn’t spared.

There was severe flooding on Knickerbocker Avenue between Suydam Street and Stockholm Street that turned Knickerbocker into a two-to-three feet deep canal for the night. 

At the Jefferson Street L stop, flood water pummeled incoming trains and drowned the platform, as recorded on video.

A basement wall collapsed at 226 Palmetto St., after 224 Palmetto St. suffered water damage from the flood, according to Department of Buildings Press Secretary Andrew Rudansky. Altogether, 50 people in Bushwick called 311 on September 1, with 78 percent describing the reason for their call being “a heavy flow” of flooding. 

Paul Addullah Ersoy, the owner of Ersoy Fashion Wear on Knickerbocker Avenue, said his store and merchandise were damaged during the Ida flood, and business is still suffering as a result. 

“It was at least two or three feet of water in the store [on the ground level],” Ersoy said. “It was crazy, and the water then went to the basement. … On my block, everybody got affected.”

Celestina Leon, the district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 4, said she was informed about significant storm-impact in these areas: Knickerbocker Avenue, between Myrtle and Flushing; Wilson Avenue, between Woodbine and Myrtle; Evergreen Avenue, between Harman and Stanhope; Central Avenue, between Weirfield and Decatur; and Putnam Avenue, between Wyckoff and Irving. 

Flooding during a storm like Ida is inevitable. But, there were human-induced problems that made the flooding worse, particularly in Bushwick’s most populated areas. 

Nicole De Santis, of the Clean Bushwick Initiative, said the accumulation of trash around storm drains is an “enormous issue” in Bushwick that contributes to flooding. 

Volunteers clean up a clogged storm drain the morning after Ida hit Bushwick. Image: Madison Weber.

“Litter along streets and on sidewalks, as well as leaves and other debris, often ends up blocking these drains and creates a backup,” De Santis said. “Additionally, litter in our tree beds and rain gardens – green infrastructure intended to prevent flooding – is also a huge issue in Bushwick.”

The morning after Knickerbocker Avenue flooded, Madison Weber – a volunteer at the Clean Bushwick Initiative and the Bushwick Emergency Relief Fund – used her contacts in both organizations to clean up the street the next morning. With the help of 10-15 volunteers, they cleaned debris, garbage, mulch and damaged property for roughly five hours.

“On Dekalb, one business’ outdoor seating structure had collapsed and beneath the fallen wood, it looked like four or five bags of trash had exploded. After cleaning it for about 20 minutes, we finally discovered that there was a drain below all the trash.”

De Santis said we need to take steps to reduce the amount of litter on the street. 

“We need to hold business owners and landlords to account for not keeping the sidewalks and 18 inches out into the street clear, as required by law,” De Santis said. “We need to crack down on illegal dumping, invest in green infrastructure, pass legislation to reduce single-use items to reduce our overall garbage production. Education and voting in every election are key to creating the change we need.”

Featured image: Madison Weber

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  1. blaming landlords and building owners for flooding is like blaming people who use plastic straws for global warming. these streets have had flooding issues for a while. the sewer system doesn’t drain properly so the water backs up into out pipes which flow back into apartment buildings. the city needs to fix this problem.

    • your 100% right, i’ve suffered from this issue for years at a building i own at greene ave and knickerbocker and have made multiple attempts to address it to the city and they just don’t care – Nothing new