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Families displaced after sewer blockage pushes waste into 300 Queens homes

Posted at 5:41 PM, Dec 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-01 17:41:19-05

JAMAICA, Queens —  Families in Queens were left without places to sleep Sunday night after sewage flooded into their homes.

A water condition caused the backup, pushing human waste into about 300 homes in Jamaica, Queens, officials said. The amount of water in basements ranged from several inches to several feet.

Nydia Cardoza-Alvarez and her sister spent the weekend pumping water sewage out of their family’s home on 146th Street in Queens. Cardoza-Alvarez said they've pumped out about 13 feet of sewage.

“It’s basically feces and urine," she said.

Cynthia McKenzie said she woke up around 3 a.m. to an odor she thought was a gas leak, only to realize that sewage water was rushing into her basement.

As the water level rose, McKenzie said she raced to move furniture and other belongings — but some electronics couldn’t be saved. After a few hours, she said, her whole neighborhood was awash in fetid fluid.

“It’s messy,” said McKenzie, who posted photos showing murky water covering the floor of a basement bedroom and the bottom of a staircase.

“When you open it, it just smells,” she said. “It makes you want to vomit. We have to pack up all the clothes.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said crews were making repairs and bringing in pumping equipment to clear up the mess.

The city’s water agency says drinking water is safe and unaffected, but de Blasio advised residents to reduce usage to cut down on water going into the blocked main.

Sunday, some workers who were tasked with the cleanup wore masks as they entered the now unsanitary basements.

Officials have a culprit in mind: cooking grease that’s been poured down the drain.

It tends to congeal into big masses that slow or stop the flow of sewage, leaving it no place to go but back up the pipes. In some places around the world , the grease balls have gotten so enormous they’ve been described as “fatbergs.”

“This time of year we get a lot of grease blockages in sewers from residents that discharge grease," city environmental protection chief Vincent Sapienza told reporters. “We’re under the assumption that it’s that.”

De Blasio says American Red Cross and city emergency management representatives are at the scene to help families displaced by the sewer back up. The city opened a service center for affected residents at a nearby public school.

De Blasio said the city is working to provide hotel rooms to anyone who was unable to return home Saturday night.