Bay Ridge deluge

Brooklyn Daily
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It was a fire hydrant fiasco in Bay Ridge over the weekend, and locals say the city is all wet.

A series of missteps by city agencies turned a routine check of a 72nd Street fire plug into a 14-hour deluge that flooded basements and ended up cutting off water for an entire city block.

Water gushed from a stuck hydrant until the wee hours of Sept. 20 after the city failed to shut it off, leaving one Ridgite ankle-deep in muck and wondering how she’ll pay for repairs.

“I don’t have flood insurance — you shouldn’t need flood insurance in Bay Ridge,” said Natalie Iwanicki, whose 72nd Street basement turned into a wading pool when the city couldn’t stop the rogue hydrant. “There was at least four inches of water and now it’s all full of mud. I really don’t want to sue anyone, but I really don’t know what to do.”

The freak flood began around noon last Friday when firefighters opened a hydrant on 72nd Street for routine maintenance. But New York’s Bravest somehow couldn’t close the hose hook-up afterwards, so they called the Department of Environmental Protection — the agency that runs the city’s water infrastructure — to have it halt the flow, according to a Fire Department spokeswoman.

A crew from the agency arrived at the scene and cut a hole in the street to access a cutoff valve underneath the fire plug. The workers had dug several feet into the ground before realizing that — an apparent agency oversight — no cutoff valve had ever been installed.

The city crews then left the scene, leaving the hydrant spewing water onto the street — and into the hole the workers had dug.

The fire plug continued gushing unabated for the rest of the day and well into the night, according to neighbors, and with the street cleaved open, the water infiltrated the ground soil and began leaking into Iwanicki’s basement by 10 pm, she said.

The homeowner called 911 but was told the issue should be routed through 311, she said. The non-emergency complaint line told her it would open a ticket with the Department of Environmental Protection.

When it was clear there would be no immediate response from the city, a photographer for this paper who was documenting the disaster decided to call in the heavy hitters — well after midnight.

“It was a fiasco,” said camerawoman Georgine Benvenuto, who called an aide for Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) in hopes of prompting action.

“I got a call at 2 am, and Georgine said there’s a flood on 72nd street and no one’s doing anything, so I ran out the door and around the block,” said Liam McCabe, who works for Grimm and lives on 69th Street. “I called the local precinct and brass at NYPD and the Fire Department. I explained to them the situation, and very shortly after, DEP came.”

To stop the flooding, the agency had to shut off the entire block’s water for several hours, according to McCabe, who blamed the belated response on poor inter-agency communication.

“The agencies weren’t talking to each other,” he said. “I understand how 311 works, but this was literally an emergency situation.”

Now Iwanicki is scrambling to find compensation, but said she isn’t getting much help from the city.

“My husband said they were supposed to come back at 9 am yesterday, but I haven’t seen them,” Iwanicki said on Sept. 23. “I don’t even have a claim number.”

If she wasn’t lucky enough to have helpful neighbors with a bit of pull, Iwanicki said she’d be sunk.

“If it wasn’t for Georgine and Liam, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said. “They were so adamant about everything. When I think about it, I get goose bumps.”

The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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