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Ditmars Blvd. residents seek answers in water main flood

"I didn't sleep all goddamn night," said Steve Vourderis, 42, the morning after the flood. He estimated his home sustained $200,000 in damages, which is problematic because he has no flood insurance. "We want answers now. What do we do about our basements that were destroyed?"City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) promised to hold Council hearings to investigate what caused the rupture of a 20-inch pipe at 70th Street and Ditmars Boulevard. He spent Friday afternoon touring damaged homes and handing out to residents property damage claims forms against New York City for water damage. The pipe burst around 4:30 p.m., sending a geyser of water into the air that submerged basements under as much as 10 feet of water. Emergency crews responded with Zodiac inflatable boats to help evacuate some residents, many of whom were elderly. "We were in the basement trying to save some stuff and the door just blew open," said Frank Maffei, 25, whose home at 49-11 Ditmars Blvd. was flooded. "There's an alleyway in the back so that's where all the water poured in." A neighbor of Maffei's was using a motor boat parked behind his house to float atop the deep pond in the alleyway and inspect the damage to his home. "He hasn't been in that boat in 30 years," Maffei said. "He finally got a chance to use it." While she managed to save her wedding dress, Madeline Sweeney, 38, said she lost scores of family heirlooms when water flooded the basement of her home at 48-08 Ditmars Blvd.. She was without electricity and gas until the end of last week when inspectors surveyed the property. "The house is out of commission," she said. "This is going to be like $100,000 of damage."Without flood insurance, Sweeney said she was worried about recouping the costs. Vallone said he would work with local residents to ensure that the city fully compensates them regardless of their insurance situation.Douglas Greeley, deputy commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection, said investigators were looking into the cause of the accident. He said it was possible that a worker at the construction site at 69-17 Ditmars Blvd. might have struck the water main with a back hoe. It took more than two hours for a team of firefighters and DEP workers to locate the proper shut-off valve to stem the flow of water. Greeley said the team, floating in an inflatable boat, tapped a metal bar on the submerged roadbed to locate the manhole cover. Vallone said it took the DEP too long to respond to the accident. The rupture occurred at 3:30 p.m. but the department was not on the scene until 4:55 p.m. A spokesman said that was how long it took to get from its base in Flushing, but Vallone said he was not satisfied. "We need to get to the bottom of why it took DEP so long to get here," he said. "I'm very concerned right now. We don't know what caused this."Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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