Devastation. Destruction. Unprecedented. These are just a few of the words being used to describe the catastrophic Tropical Depression named Ida that wreaked havoc throughout the tri-state region on the evening of Tuesday, August 31. The historic storm disrupted life for many New Yorkers and caused insurmountable damage, causing Governor Kathy Hochul to declare a state of emergency just after midnight. Travel was discouraged and a broad range of public transportation was halted, stranding commuters.

The force of the storm prompted the National Weather Service to issued two record-setting flash flood emergencies, the first of its kind for the New York area. Threat of tornadoes, flash floods, and severe thunderstorms dominated news alerts as New Yorkers were thrown into a panic. A flash flood emergency is issued in very rare situations when extremely heavy rains creates a severe threat to human life, and cataclysmic damage from a flash flood is currently happening or will happen soon. In mere minutes, extraordinary water pressure demolished residential properties and businesses throughout the region. Basements were among the hardest hit, including countless illegal dwellings throughout Queens, which left many families homeless. The wipeout in Queens has been deemed so calamitous that President Joe Biden had planned a visit to the borough on Tuesday, September 7.

Community Organizations Respond

As Ida tapered off, Chaverim of Queens and Queens Borough Safety Patrol-Shmira hotlines saw a quick influx of dozens of calls for help. The organizations responded immediately, lending a hand to stranded motorists and homeowners dealing with flooded out properties. Portions of Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates, Kew Gardens, and Kew Gardens Hills saw flooding the likes never seen prior. Chaverim lived up to its mission of recruiting volunteers who are there for our neighbors whenever possible.

Shmira was designed to rise to the public safety needs of the community, and their members did not let up for a moment. Shmira squad vehicles were in constant use, assisting in keeping streets safe and motorists protected. “When I awoke the morning after the storm, I was deeply humbled, honored, and inspired by the actions of our volunteers,” said Solomon Pinkhasov, a Shmira coordinator. “It is an honor to be a part of a group of able-bodied individuals who watch over our community and are available and reliable when called on.”

The volunteers who spent the night running between calls, risking themselves as they tried their best to keep those stranded and displaced out of harm’s way, are credited with remaining calm and weathering the storm with incredible selflessness and unity. These responders became a lifeline for motorists who had abandoned their vehicles. There were reports of one daring rescue where a volunteer entered neck-deep water to pull a trapped motorist to safety. Everywhere, members were forced to improvise to the ever-changing conditions.

“We have been here thirteen years strong and always pride ourselves on going above the call of duty,” said Chaverim co-founder Avi Cyperstein. “A situation like Tuesday night allows the beauty of our volunteers’ efforts to shine.”

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