New York Raining
Image by Alanna21 from Pixabay

Floods are becoming a "new normal" in New York City, a recent study by a NASA led research team has found that the metropolitan area is slowly sinking by an average of 0.06 inches per year.

The study comes just as New York City experienced a historic rainfall. Last Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency for New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley, calling the remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia a "life-threatening rainfall event." A month's worth of rain, more than 4.5 inches of rain fell in just three hours and nearly 8 inches of rain fell in John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia's Airport Terminal A was flooded and passengers were transported to Terminal C.

Brooklyn was one of the hardest hit boroughs. According to the New York Post, 17 train lines suspended their service, videos on social media showed cars plowing through knee-deep water in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, with a whirlpool seen swirling in the middle of the waterlogged road. Firefighters performed rescues at six basements in New York City flooded by torrents of water, according to the New York City Fire Department.

While there have been zero deaths reported by city officials from the historic rainfall, basement apartments continue to be a risk during floods. These apartments are often rented to immigrants, or often the only affordable place to live for many New Yorkers. The city has long been aware of the dangers posed by the vast network of basement homes; it was evident during Hurricane Ida when 11 people died from being trapped in flooded basement apartments. With renewed attention after Hurricane Ida, officials failed once again to pass any legislation such as a basement conversion pilot program to regulate these apartments.

In a report by the Pratt Center for Community Development, basement and cellar apartments were found in predominantly BIPOC Communities. Brooklyn and Queens have the most neighborhoods of unaccounted units. In Queens, East Elmhurst, North Corona and Jackson Heights, the total unaccounted for units is 4,106 and 66 percent of those units are occupied by Latinos. In Manhattan community district 12, with neighborhoods like Washington Heights, 68 percent of Latinos occupy the 4,945 unaccounted for units.

By 2050, one out of three basements and cellars in New York will be at high risk of flooding, according to a report released last year by the city's comptroller. The Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone (BASE) Coalition, formed in 2006, has once again renewed calls for regulation of tens of thousands of basement and cellar apartments. In a statement, the coalition says opt-in text messages and belated emergency alerts are insufficient, the city and state remain unprepared to protect New Yorkers. Legalization of basement tenants and major investments in the city's stormwater infrastructure.

Senator Shelley B. Mayer and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz have also proposed legislation to create the Office of Flood Prevention and Mitigation. The bill includes support for counties and municipalities in establishing programs, resources, facilitating consultation between different levels of government and more to help the ongoing flooding due to climate change affecting the city of New York.

In the aftermath of the flooding, New York was at risk of not receiving relief from the National Flood Insurance Program due to the looming government shutdown. But a bipartisan bill was passed to keep the government funded through Nov. 17.

"For the Republicans in Congress to even toy with the fact and hold over our heads that there might not be flood insurance or disaster assistance up until the final hour, that's unconscionable," Hochul said Sunday morning during an appearance on "Face the Nation." "And it's tone-deaf to what states like New York and many others are going through in this new era of climate change, where the unknown is becoming the norm here."

Gov. Hochul stated local officials are assessing damages and the costs will help determine if areas "hit a certain threshold in order to be eligible for FEMA reimbursement."

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