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Queens families sue city over ’07 flood damage

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Attorneys for Queens residents whose homes were damaged in torrential rains in 2007 have filed a class−action lawsuit against the city following city Comptroller William Thompson’s announcement last month that the city would not provide monetary compensation to flood victims.

Twelve Queens families from Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows and Woodside are named in the suit that seeks compensation for all 810 borough residents who filed damage claims with the comptroller’s office and asks the city to upgrade what residents say is an outdated sewage system that cannot mitigate flooding problems that have existed for decades.

Attorneys from the Long Island−based firm Sandback, Birnbaum & Michelen filed the suit May 5.

“These residents have a right to be compensated for their losses,” attorney Oscar Michelen said. “The city ignored longstanding problems with this sewer system and this disastrous event was foreseeable and preventable.”

Michelen said Queens, like much of Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan, should have two separate lines for storm water and sewage. There is currently a single line for storm water and sewage.

Thompson sent letters in mid−April to property owners about the city’s decision not to compensate them, saying the city Department of Environmental Protection found the city was not liable for residents’ losses in three heavy rains in April, July and August 2007, during which sewer lines were overwhelmed and sewage poured into houses throughout Queens.

Fresh Meadows, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, Flushing, Woodside, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Jamaica, St. Albans and Laurelton were particularly hard hit.

The DEP found that “agency personnel responded to the flooding in a timely manner and took appropriate measures to relieve the flooding conditions,” Thompson said in a statement issued in April.

Forest Hills resident Bruce Saffran, who is named in the suit, lost nearly everything in the August flood. He had filed a claim for $100,000 with the city.

“I heard a crash that morning, and then a wall of water about 4 feet high came through our front door,” said Saffran, who lives in a co−op on Yellowstone Boulevard. “My son was screaming, ‘Daddy, I don’t want to die.’”

Heidi Pashko, also of Forest Hills and named in the suit, said she and her family also lost almost everything in the flood, including irreplaceable photos of family and friends.

“My husband had to hold the front door closed, and if he hadn’t done that, there would’ve been 10 feet of water in our apartment and we would have drowned,” said Pashko, who has lived in her Yellowstone Boulevard apartment for 33 years.

“You can’t put a price on what we lost,” Pashko added. “We lost everything. I still cry over it.”

Queens lawmakers have railed against the city’s decision not to compensate flood victims.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D−Fresh Meadows), City Councilman James Gennaro (D−Fresh Meadows), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D−Whitestone) and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills), called upon the city in February to use federal stimulus money to mitigate flooding problems in northeast and central Queens.

But Lancman said when officials spoke with the DEP about using the federal money for flooding problems, the city agency said it had no projects on the drawing board in which to inject stimulus funds.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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