Interview with resident of Coxsackie, New York
Interviewee: Resident of Coxsackie NY, Woman, 33 years old
Interviewer: Julia Neale
Q: Where exactly do you live in Coxsackie? The street, the cross street, and your proximity to the water.
A: I live [—] about four blocks away from the water.
Q: Okay. So where exactly were you the night of the storm?
A: I was in my home.
Q: And can you describe your experience living through the storm. Some of the things you went through, what you witnessed, and some of the things that happened your home.
A: It was frightening to be quite honest. So basically that night my sister called me and she was with her two children and she called me and said her power went off. At that point I still had power, everything was fine. There was no water on my block. So I get in the car to go get my sister who was living on [—] and [—].
Q: About how long would it take you to get to her normally?
A: Five minutes.
A: So that night it was a little bit more, it took about 7‑10 minutes just because it was raining and I was driving carefully things of that nature. Get to the house get my sister, load her up in the car, and come back to my block. At that point when I came back to my block, I noticed that water was on my block. More water than usual. And I thought to myself that perhaps it was the drain at the end of the block that, you know, maybe trees or twigs or whatever the case was, they fell in a drain, so I figured oh, it was just the drainage; things of that nature. I go into the house; I let my husband know that the block looks like it has a little extra water on it. We put on some water boots, go get our rakes, and knock on some neighbors doors so to clear the drain.
Q: So you actually attempted to clear the drain yourself?
A: We were going to, but attempt that would be intent. We go to the backyard, we get our stuff on. By the time we start walking towards the front of the house, we see water rushing into the driveway. The water parts up to the floor. I run to the front of the house and I could see when I looked down by block, because I live on a one way street, looked down my block towards the water, the water was rushing, coming, gushing, like a river, much like a river, so it was a bit frightening at first. I was startled kind of like just because my boots, my rain boots, were up my knees, and I walked through the water, it was more than half way, you know, in the middle of where my rain boots was ‑‑
Q: And about how long did it take for the water actually get that high, from when you and your husband and your neighbors started going out to rake to actually clean the drain?
A: About three minutes.
Q: So in three minutes, the water went from being just basically just on the street and barely noticeable ‑‑
A: Um-hmm (yes).
Q: ‑‑ to midway through your knee high boots?
Q: Please let the record show that the interviewee is approximately 5 feet 5. Okay.
A: So at that point, the water kept coming and we were looking at it and just like in an amazement, and it just kept coming, it kept coming, we realized that okay, it’s not the drain, it’s water coming from the pier, and from where I lived on [—] street towards Flatlands, there’s also, I don’t know like a trenched area, but there’s an area where the bay kind of feeds in, and so that water, what I suspected water was coming from that area, and coming from the bay, and I was right smack in the middle. So the water starts to pour and we run inside the house because we realize that oh, my gosh, it’s getting like it’s going to get into the basement it’s going to, you know, it’s coming very quickly. So we run down to the basement, we attempt to pick up the computer that’s on the floor, put the tower from off the floor put it off on the sofa: The children had toys on the floor, we attempted to pick those things up to put on the sofa because we anticipated that it would be 2 to 3 inches 4 inches, maybe, if we get that much water in the basement. So as we’re doing that I start to hear water trickling.
A: So the water starts to trickle, my sister is filming this at the same time as we’re doing it ‘cause, you know, everything goes on film right now. That’s the age we live in. So she’s filming this, my husband and I are simply trying to put these things up on the couch, the sofa, you know, because we don’t want the 3 and 4 inches to come in. So really by the time we get the tower picked up the tower from out of the floor, we heard a burst. The water, first of all, the water was in coming from the bottom, the floor, then it starts to slowly come through the window, and after a while it burst through the one of the sides of the wall of my basement. It literally burst through the wall. We have that on tape so.
Q: So it’s coming through from 3 different places in your house?
Q: Okay. And did at any point in time did you lose power?
A: Okay. So once it came in, you know, the water is rising now, I screamed when I heard the burst of water. We’re in the basement submerged and the electricity sockets are towards the ground, so, you know, water’s coming in, so we didn’t have an opportunity to cut the switch, the electricity switch off, so we didn’t cut the electric off, we didn’t cut the gas off. I screamed we ran upstairs and decided that we’re going to get the kids the get out of the house ’cause we know it’s an unsafe situation. We get the kids. So I tell my children, “Get your clothes on we’re leaving.” So I open up the door; we’re not going anywhere. The water is so high that it is quarter way to where my jeep is and I drove, I have to say drove because I lost it in the flood, I was driving a 2012 Nissan Pathfinder at that point, and it was almost quarter way to the Nissan Pathfinder. So I have young children, and I knew I could not get out of the house with them. The water continued to rise, I have a big tree, a huge tree, in the front of my house, and the tree was very, very short because the water rose so much. My front porch was covered with water. The water started to come so quickly, it got up to the middle of the door on my Pathfinder, which is a jeep. My basement continued to flood and we start thinking you can hear the water pouring in the house. After the water starts to pour in the house for maybe ten minutes or so, the lights went off.
A: It hit the electrical panel. The electrical panel is on the wall about six feet out of the ground and it hit that. You heard a “shhhhh” and then a clicking sound, you know, because everything was submerged. The hot water heater the boiler, everything the contents of these was submerged. So we lost power, which was frightening because we knew what was happening because we could hear the “shhhhhh”. We realized that we were trapped in the house.
Q: Okay. How long have you lived in your current house?
A: From 2005.
Q: Okay. So, for about 8, 9 years you lived in your house?
Q: You lived three blocks off the pier?
Q: Have you ever experienced any flooding ever?
A: Never. That was ‑‑
Q: Not even during Hurricane Irene?
Q: Do you have homeowner’s insurance or flood?
Q: Are you classified as zone A, zone B, zone C? Are you not in any evacuation zone at all?
A: I’m in zone B.
Q: Okay. So you’re in zone B, there’s less risk in zone B. The city doesn’t order mandatory evacuation?
Q: At this point when you realize that you are trapped in your house, what’s going through your mind and how are you going to calm your kids?
A: Very frightening. My son, very dramatic. He realized that we were trapped in the house, and he opened up to door and looked outside and saw the water and starts to think, “We are doomed. We’re doomed.” So I tell him stop saying that, we’re not doomed; in my mind thinking are we really doomed because really can’t go anywhere. There’s water all around us, you know, live wires in the basement and the water continues to pour into a basement. We are ‑‑ are we doomed? Is the kid onto something? And, by the way, as the block starts to flood, the electrical poles they also start to spark. So my house was on fire for about 15 seconds. The neighbor across the way was calling out to us, you know, “The house is on fire. The house is on fire.” And all we could do is say,” Yeah, we know. We’re praying.” Like literally it was very, very frightening.
Q: At this point how much rain is falling? Is the rain falling heavy? Is it falling lightly?
A: The rain wasn’t falling heavy at all.
Q: As a regular ‑‑
A: A regular.
Q: ‑‑ regular rainy day?
A: It’s a regular rain any day. So it’s definitely not the rain, and I thank God it wasn’t raining because I don’t know what would have happened if it we’re raining heavily. I did call 911.
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
A: And 911 said they couldn’t come out.
A: And I had my two children, who are 8 and 9, and my children, my sister’s two children, nine months and 4, myself, my husband, my sister. My parents walked through the storm at the beginning of the storm, so they were at the house, and everyone was trapped in my house and 911 said there was no way they could come get us.
Q: And what exactly ‑‑ I hate to sound like a psychologist right now ‑‑ but how exactly did that make you feel in response to government’s service responses to your dire need, your dire situation, having four children in your house, all of them under the age of nine, having seniors in the house, and three people, you know, how exactly did you really feel about that?
A: Like I said, it was the most frightening feeling, the most helpless feeling, frustration, anger, because they were very politely telling me “No, we won’t come out.” And I did explain to them that I do have young children and I do have older people with me, and that didn’t make a difference. So it made me feel like, okay all of the tax dollars that I’m paying and, you know, paying my dues, I’m being a good citizen. I pay my homeowner’s insurance. I pay the taxes on the home.
A: You know I pay taxes as a worker, as an employee, and all of that is in vain. When I actually need help no one is there to give me help, so it made me really feel upset with the system, the way system is designed. I felt like in my time of need the system wasn’t there for me.
Q: This is why I ‑‑ I wasn’t expecting you to say anything about the way the system is designed. What were some of the flaws that you think were inherent in the system? Do you have any ideas of how it could be better fixed?
A: Well, in a situation like that, I first of all, I think that don’t be ‑‑ we were not alerted that there was the potential that there could be flooding. Our community advocates didn’t say anything to us, there was no evacuation planning, and I feel like there should have been some evacuation planning and there was none. There’s local channel 12 news.
Q: Um-hmm (yes). So you have cable then?
A: Um-hmm (yes).
A: Channel 12 news. There was nothing on the news indicating that there was potential danger. I mean, overall in the news at large, the general news, they did say there was a big storm coming with potential ‑‑ and we did prepare. We went out and we bought food and things of that nature but, there was never a threat of, oh my God, your house could be under water. So I feel like that was something that the system, the city ‑‑
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
Q: ‑‑ should have really, you know, put certain procedures in place in the event of an emergency such as that, and that was what was missing. And then, you know, just to compound that situation, when we called 911, we got no help. So ‑‑
A: How could it be fixed? You know, definitely better planning. Definitely has to have a better planning, you know, there should have been people in places ‑‑ especially the fact that I live about 16 blocks away from a police station and a fire station, there should have been different things, different procedures in place in the event of an emergency such as that.
Q: Okay. So, fast-forward to the next day. How quickly does it take for the water to recede?
A: Three and a half days.
Q: Three and a half days. Okay. So three and a half days for the water to recede.
A: Um-hmm (yes).
Q: Explain to me the city’s response in the aftermath after the storm surge and after the water recedes from the street, how long did it take for you see any type of city services, whether it was FEMA, devastation, helping people cleaning up their basements, or the Red Cross coming out with supplies? Was there any of that available or how long did it take to come?
A: About two weeks.
Q: Two weeks.
A: There were two weeks where city workers were walking around. On the immediate days after the surge, there was no one walking around; people were just kind of walking around; people that lived in the area walking around in a daze. There was really ‑‑ it was just so much devastation, people were in such shock, I mean was one of those people who just couldn’t understand what just happened and how come we weren’t prepared, you know. So city workers, it took two weeks for city workers to come out, who were walking around, were construction workers.
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
A: You know, those are the first guys on the scene to really, you know, look at people, their basements and things like that. I mean people trying to making money, you know. But as far as help from Red Cross, that was two weeks until they came. And they weren’t really walking around directly after, about 3‑and‑a‑half weeks the church of the local churches, FEMA and other local businesses, they set up shop, if you will, for aid for people in the area, at the various churches in the area: So St. Jude, there’s Holy Cross on Flatlands, they set up some stations, and then people would be able to go to get supplies, but as far as people coming out and giving supplies, that didn’t happen until way, three weeks into it, and then it was even the government FEMA that was doing it, it was just really local churches.
Q: Really, voluntary?
A: Yeah, voluntary. It wasn’t any ‑‑ it wasn’t local government at all.
Q: I guess this is kind of a redundant question, but I have to ask it, how would you classify the response of State agencies to the storm, and cleaning up your community?
A: If I had to classify it, I would classify it as awful. For the first week to two weeks, it was terrible.
Q: How long was your power out?
A: My power out for 1, 2, 3, 5 days.
Q: Is that just your personal power was that for the entire community?
A: It was various. It was various. You know my neighbor didn’t get his power, literally next door, that lives next door to me. He didn’t get his power back until a month.
Q: Is that because of the city’s restrictions to, help ‑‑ actually kind of restrictions of being able to turn back on the power in individual homes?
A: It had nothing to do ‑‑ no, it had nothing to do with this. In his case, it didn’t have anything to do with that. What was happening was the power line ‑‑
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
A: ‑‑ on the house that connects, his light burnt out completely. Mine from the fire burnt a little, so, the wires were still connected, but the case that covers and insulates it burnt out. So unfortunately when his house was on fire, it burned completely. So it took a while for the agency to come out and fix it for him. We were lucky, we had to get a private contractor to come in to fix our electricity, you know, we did it because we had kids, and it was cold, and we needed electricity. So we got our electricity back up and running in five days, but it had nothing to do with the city. It had nothing to do with any outside agency helping us, that was completely on our dime. And then we also had to replace our hot water heater ‑‑
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
A: ‑‑ which took an additional four days. And then we also had to replace the boiler, which took about that same time, so we didn’t get, you know, everything up and running and functioning in our home until about a week and a half after the storm. A week‑and‑a‑half, two weeks. But that was on our own dime, that had nothing to do with any ‑‑
Q: So there was no government agency?
Q: No FEMA aid?
Q: You and your husband used, I’m assuming you used savings ‑‑
Q: Did your insurance company provide any assistance at all?
A: We don’t have flood insurance.
Q: So under general homeowner policy, there’s no assistance to help you replace any of the things that were lost? Did they give you any explanation or did they say, “You don’t have flood insurance, so ‑‑
A: The explanation was it due to the flood and we don’t have flood insurance.
Q: Okay. So living three blocks away from the pier, there’s, you know, always a potential for flooding whenever you live by water. What exactly convinced you and your that husband that you didn’t need flood insurance?
A: Because you can’t get flood insurance unless your area is being the flood area. It cannot be that area where I lived, is not being the flood area. So we couldn’t get flood insurance even if we wanted flood insurance. No one would sell it to us. But flood insurance is substantially higher than regular homeowner’s insurance, so you got first be categorized as a flood area, and then you got to go out and get flood insurance separate from your homeowner’s insurance.
Q: That’s interesting.
A: Um-hmm (yes). So it’s very easy for homeowner’s, insurance companies to say, “Hey, you buy flood, you don’t have flood insurance and we are out of it.”
Q: Okay. So was there any particular reason why you chose buy a house in the area of Coxsackie where you lived that’s 3 blocks away from the pier?
A: My family lived there for about 25 years.
Q: And in that 25 years there was never any flooding?
Q: Never any flooding, never any threat of danger?
A: None of that.
Q: Do you feel safe your community now ‑‑
Q: ‑‑ in your home?
A: Not at all. Every time like they say it’s going to rain or a storm in coming, there’s always that potential that, you know, something could happen because we never knew anything like that could happen before. But now it’s like, who knows? Who knows what’s going to happen.
Q: So would you classify yourself as a little bit more anxious whenever there’s a threat of a storm or a threat of flood?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. My basement had nine feet of water in it. I’m 5’5. It was a death trap. And what was more frightening in the basement was the fact that my children, that’s a family room, many times my kids run downstairs, you know, force of habit open up the door, run downstairs, turn on the light after they get downstairs because they didn’t know that, you know, this is their normal routine. That night when the basement was flooded, I kept thinking is, what happens if my kids forget that there’s water in the basement and they open the basement door? There’s nine feet of water in the basement. That was frightening. That was frightening.
Q: So what we’re the homeland’s plans to set aside 4 hundred million dollars to relocate people in low‑lying? If the government offered you money to buy your house and relocate, would you take it?
Q: Without any question? Without any hesitation?
A: I would absolutely take it. There’s nothing like experiencing a natural disaster and being a part of it. It’s one thing to see it on TV, but it’s one thing completely different one thing where you’re living it. So, we were in a situation where we were helpless and we were trapped and we didn’t get the aid that we needed. You know, when FEMA decided to come around, almost a month after the storm ‑‑
A: You know, to then look at things and ask questions, how high was the water? Did the water recede? In after a month, you know, lots of water dries, you know. Your ‑‑ a basement is sheetrock. No one has concrete. Sheetrock dries. You know, so, and asking all kinds of serious questions, knowing the fact that the area was under water. You know, to be subjected to silly questions, how high was the water, you know, has do you have flood insurance, knowing full well that’s it a not flood area. No one has flood insurance. To me those things are ridiculous and it makes you feel helpless because A, this is the government that you’re paying money into, and it’s not free, you know. I’m a happy payer. I’m paying into this. I paid, you know, federal taxes, state taxes, city taxes, yada‑yada‑yada, and when it’s time for me to actually get aid, well, the government ‑‑ I have to answer 20 million questions, you know, I’ve done something as if the storm is my fault. So yeah, I would absolutely, I would absolutely take the money and I would go. I will go to a safe place.
Q: Okay. Last major question. Would you classify your community as a tight‑knit community, or would you classify it more as individual?
A: I would say half and half. I mean, there are city ‑‑ there are group leaders, there’s a community board, things of that nature, but it’s only for, you know, a few ‑‑ they don’t really do much. And I think our neighborhood is fragmented. My neighborhood is fragmented quite honestly ‑‑
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
A: ‑‑ and it’s for a host of reasons, I mean, you know, there’s ‑‑ I’m sandwiched between two projects baby ones and then there are houses between. You know, one‑family, two‑family house between. Dare I say the people that live in the one‑family and two‑family houses, they have their own agendas, their own outlook on life, but the people that live in the projects, they have their own agenda and their own outlook on life. Do I think that those people come together? Very rarely you know, so that’s why I think it’s fragmented. But overall, I think that everyone, no matter where you are, there’s ‑‑ everyone wants to feel safe and they want to feel like there’s, you know, their neighborhood is a good neighborhood. So if I were to ask the people that lived in the projects and the people that lived in houses, how do you feel about your neighborhood? Do you think it’s safe? You know, would you want to rally together to get something done for the neighborhood? I think yes, they would. But right now I think it’s fragmented.
Q: Basically you have no ties to the community except for the 25 years you lived there and you’d be willing to spend any amount of money to go?
A: If the price was right, yeah.
Q: If the price was right?
A: If the price was right, yeah. If the price was right. I feel like I would also want my family to leave as well because, I mean, I stayed to be with my family. That’s why I am there. I could have lived anywhere I wanted. I made a conscience choice to move four blocks away from my parents, you know, but as crazy as that sounds, I will want my family to also move as well. I wouldn’t want to leave my parents there because they’re in the same, you know, harm’s way. But yeah, I don’t think the neighborhood really, you know, it’s not a matter of living in that neighborhood that I have a problem with, the reason why I live in the neighborhood is because my family is there. Wherever my family is, to me it’s home so it doesn’t matter.
Q: That’s interesting. Very good. What are some of the things ‑‑ you’ve already mentioned that the city’s response was poor or inadequate ‑‑
A: It was inadequate. I mean ‑‑
Q: What are some of the things that you think they could do better in the future that could change if the situation happens again?
A: Well, again, I really feel that an evacuation plan should definitely be in place. I also feel that, you know, that they should we should come up with some type of drill, some type of drill. They don’t need to be big planning, people need to know different routes of the state, people need to know the higher points that they can go to. I have a friend that thought he was parking his car in a good place. It ended up under water because he didn’t understand that he wasn’t high enough away from the water. So, you know, you think people think of points in the neighborhood that high point, that the tide wouldn’t come in as much because, believe it or not, people that are five blocks away from me, they were fine.
Q: So what about some of the alternative plans that they have, to build up swamp land for the water from rushing tides than to build houses higher with a hollow foundation so water can run under through or things like that where some of the other engineering plans that they have, how do you feel about those?
A: I’m glad that you brought that up. I’ll get to that question but I just want to point something out, you speak about engineering and in my neighborhood right now, the Bell Parkway is being worked on.
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
A: The Bell Parkway ‑‑ now what they’ve done is they’ve bandaged the belt parkway but they’d have to hollow out certain parts of the ground.
Q: Please let the record indicate that the Bell Parkway entrance for the particular community is the Rockaway Parkway exit, which I believe is exit 13?
Q: Exit 13 on the Bell Parkway.
A: That project has been going on now for two and a half years and they leveled the park, the (unintelligible ‑ 28:08) area.
Q: Um-hmm (yes).
A: They’ve leveled it. They’ve cut down trees, hollowed out the ground. Really exposing ‑‑
Q: Now is this the area that acts as the buffer the community and ‑‑
A: It is.
Q: ‑‑ the water?
A: It is. So I’ve told you before I lived in Coxsackie for 25 years, never had any, you know, crazy experiences like that. And we’d had storms. No, we’ve never had a storm of this magnitude, but we’d had serious storms in the past 25 years, that has, you know, brought flooding in many areas in Brooklyn, but what the difference with this storm was it was a huge storm but there was also no buffer to stop the water from coming in. So the hollow ground, the tide rose, and that water came rushing in. They built a ‑‑ they’d sanded the bridge. They have to hollow out that land to build the bridge on it. What happened, there’s no area right now, so we’re exposed, so that’s why I would want to move from that area because I was, I had trees, there was a buffer before and there’s no buffer now. I’m completely exposed to the water.
Q: So in physiological terms, they often differentiate between what’s considered a man‑made storm ‑‑
A: Um-hmm (yes).
Q: ‑‑ I’m sorry, not a man‑made storm, a natural disaster versus a man‑made disaster. For your particular community, would you classify the disaster as man‑made or natural?
A: I think this was a man‑made disaster.
Q: Why do you think it was a man‑made disaster?
A: The fact that hollowing out of the land where the Bell Parkway where they have to sand the Bell Parkway, they leveled that. There were trees in that area before, there were sand dunes before that I would think kept the water back. That is completely flat now, so once the tide rises or raises, the tide can come in and it goes under the bridge and it crosses the parkway and it goes onto the road and that’s what’s happened. It’s ‑‑ my guess is if we would have a flood, if they didn’t start that work and we would have had a flood, it certainly would not have been to that magnitude. Absolutely not. I have no reason to believe that. Have no reason to believe that. So I do believe, yes, it was natural, but the magnitude of it, the intensity of it was certainly man‑made. Absolutely.
Q: Okay. And I’m out of questions. Is there anything else you would like to add to the interview? And particular area that I didn’t address that you have comments on?
A: Yes. I actually do. FEMA and the way to give monies out and the way they, you know, figure out what your losses are. I’m not really sure how they figure out losses. FEMA came to my home. First of all, everything in my basement that is out of my basement, there were things that you would normally keep in an attic, so, you know, things that people I guess that have floods or don’t have basements, they keep in an attic, but I’d never had that before. I kept everything, you know, secure family heirlooms, you know, degrees, things of that nature, so it was all kept in the basement, you know, worth a lot of money. I had memorabilia from the Giants when they won the Super bowl, I think it was five years ago I got those things signed for my husband, we paid, you know, I paid like $7,000 for those items back then and to have all of that gone in the blink of an eye, then to have a FEMA person, a representative from FEMA come to the house and tell me how much my things are worth, you know, that was very upsetting because it was a fraction of what we actually spent on the content in the basement. It was a fraction of what it actually cost to put the basement together. It was insulting and I’m not sure how they arrived at their numbers, what type of math they use; I’m not sure. What’s even more insulting is the way taxes are done and computed. My tax provider told me, yes, you can claim the items in your basement that you lost; however, the caveat to that is the government will take 10% of your salary, your annual salary if your losses are less than 10% of you annual salary, you get nothing. If your losses exceed 10% of your salary, the government deducts 10% of your salary from your losses. If FEMA has given you any type of aid, the government also takes that away and then subtracts that and then that’s what you get, which to me is ludicrous.
Q: If I’m understanding correctly, you’re paying taxes on things you’ve already paid for and paid taxes on, you’re being penalized for having valuables, and at the same time, you’re being insulted by the government telling you that your things are not worth as much as they actually are worth?
Q: Okay. I just wanted to make sure that I had that information correct and that I was not misinterpreting what my interviewee was stating?
Q: Thank you very much. You have been most helpful.
A: Thank you for your time.
Q: And is there anyone else I should speak to maybe? Or do you have any other contacts that I could talk to? Would you be willing to share that information with me off record, maybe?
Q: Okay. Thank you. Concluding interview.
[End of Recording]
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