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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks with Governor Hochul to Provide Update on New York City's Storm Recovery Efforts

September 2, 2021

Governor Kathy Hochul: Good morning. I want to thank the individuals who have joined us here this morning, Senator Schumer, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Congressman Meeks, our Borough President Donovan Richards, as well as Borough President Adams. We're here today because of a devastating storm that shocked the people of this city and to even the morning after we're still uncovering the true depth of the loss, the human loss, which is hard to imagine that people simply in their cars, in their homes and their basements succumb to the ravages of a brutal storm and their families must just be in such pain this morning. So, to all of them, we offer our love, our condolences, and our wishes for their healing, and we'll be there to support them. And this was all precipitated by last night's record shattering rainfall, and what's so fascinating is that the records that were broken in Central Park, for example 3.15 inches in one hour, it broke a record literally set one week earlier. That says to me that there are no more cataclysmic, unforeseeable events, we need to foresee these in advance and be prepared. And we learned a lot of lessons from Sandy, we built back resiliency, our coastal shorelines are in much better shape than they had been, but where we have a vulnerability is in our streets with the higher elevations now, where the flash floods - which were unknown before - this is the first time we've had a flash flood event of this proportion in the City of New York and in the outlying areas. We haven't experienced this before, but we should expect it the next time, and that means we have to continue investments in infrastructure, working in partnership with our federal government, and support from Senator Schumer and President Biden, we're working so hard, so hard to get the infrastructure dollars back to our states. We can build this up, working in partnership with the Mayor and other officials, to work collaboratively and get this done, so we can take care of the drainage shortcomings in our streets because when the streets get flooded, what happens next? The water rushes down, not just through the highways, but also finds its way to penetrate our subway system, and as a result, what happened yesterday, trains were shut down, people were stranded. The fear that they must've experienced when this occurred, I cannot imagine, and I don't want this to happen again.  

So, what we're doing is yesterday in preparation, we directed all of our state resources to be prepared, our DOT, Throughway Authority, MTA, Port Authority, all of our first responders embedded with the local teams here and throughout Long Island, Nassau, Suffolk Westchester, Putnam, Rockland Counties, all of those have suffered some form of loss. We wanted to make sure our crews were on the ground. We also have pumping systems in place taking care of the subways, literally removing the water physically, and I want to thank first of all, everyone who was involved last night, but our transit workers are heroes, especially all the bus operators who had to be deployed to literally take people from stations to where they needed to go. So, as an extraordinary rescue operation just a few short hours ago. Moments ago, I was on the phone with the White House, President Biden called, offered any assistance, he repeated, any assistance that the State of New York needs, I told him we'll take him up on that, and what happens next, we'll be doing on the ground assessments of the damage with the FEMA teams, our local partners, and making sure we get a true accounting of the loss, but he promised that he'll guarantee - he said, I’ll guarantee you I will approve any declaration you need, emergency declaration, so we can get the money flowing to New York, to our municipalities, to our cities, to our citizens, the businesses affected, and certainly to the homeowners. And also, with respect to the homeowners who have experience the flooding in their own basements. I've directed the Department of Financial services to be in contact immediately with their insurance providers, so they get people on the ground show up in these neighborhoods, get your claims adjusters, let them start filing to get reimbursed for the damages. We have mobile units on the ground to this end as well.  

So, right now we still have limited services on the subway. I'll be heading out to Long Island to see some damage that occurred up there shortly, but the Metro-North, LIRR, and the subway systems are not fully functioning at this time, but I want people to stay engaged, following the information, and to make sure that they stay safe. I want to conclude by saying once again, New Yorkers show what they're made out of, the collaboration that was going on, that constant communication between our teams is something that perhaps you don't see in the public, but it's real, it makes a difference, and it helps save lives. And literally, I want to thank our partners at the State level as well, State Police and our rescue teams had a rescue over 100 people in Westchester and Rockland County alone. So, this is a scenario as we speak today, but I'll be giving continuing reports. What I wanted to do first was assess where we are today, but my next question is where are we going next? How do we prevent this from happening? How do we get money and resources to the places we can build up the resiliency in streets, before we worried about the coastal areas, now it's about what's happening in the streets, the drainage systems that need to be enhanced and all the resiliency we can because of climate change, unfortunately this is something we're going to have to deal with great regularity, and we want to assure all New Yorkers that we're prepared for this, and we'll do everything we can in our power to protect human life and property. Thank you very much. With that, I'd like to introduce Senator Schumer who's been very engaged as we spoke this morning already, and I want to thank him for his partnership. 

Senator Charles Schumer: Okay. Thank you, Governor, and first my condolences and heart and prayers to all of the families who have lost loved ones. Imagine the horror of you're sitting in your own basement apartment and the water just floods in all of a sudden with no notice and you struggle to get out, but you can't. It's an awful, awful situation, and our hearts go out to them. I too want to thank all of our New Yorkers at the city and the state level, as well as the other localities who always go all out. Unfortunately, we in New York have experienced too many emergencies in the last decade, and the one thing we've learned through these emergencies is how strong New Yorkers are and how much our public servants want to go all out and risk their lives to preserve other people's lives, and we thank them. I'm going to make two points here. Number one, we will do everything we can to get all of the federal aid that's needed. We did this after Sandy, we've done it after many other storms, upstate, the Governor knows when we worked together on these storms upstate. And I spoke this morning to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, the good news here is, you know what her job was before she was FEMA Administrator, she was the city's OEM Commissioner. So, she knows New York well. We will fight and make this - make New York declared a disaster area, spoken to the White House as well. And that will mean money, money for homeowners and individuals, money for small businesses that may have been lost, and money to our city, state, and other local governments for the amount of money that they've had to lay out to deal with this crisis. And I will make sure as I have in the past that no stone is left unturned and all of the federal largesse. In the federal government, we know, when a disaster hits one area, the whole country comes together and helps, and that's what we're going to ask here for New York, just as we are helping in California with the fires, and out west with the fires, et cetera.  

And that relates to my second and final point, global warming is upon us. When you get two record rainfalls in a week, it's not just coincidence. When you get all the changes that we have seen in weather, that's not a coincidence. Global warming is upon us, and it's going to get worse and worse and worse unless we do something about it, and that's why it's so imperative to pass the two bills, the infrastructure bill, and the budget reconciliation bill, the second deals with climate change, and we'll reduce the amount of carbon we put in the atmosphere by 50 percent by 2030. The first bill dilly deals with infrastructure and built into that infrastructure is something I stead started fostering with Sandy, that we don't just build infrastructure, but we build resilient infrastructure, so when these floods or fires or anything else occurs, they are much more resistant. And you saw some results of that from the Sandy money, but we need much more of it, and these bills do that. Woe is us, if we don't recognize these changes are due to climate change. Woe is us if we don't do something about it quickly, both in building resilient infrastructure and going to clean power, whether it's in homes, in electricity, and transportation to stop the global warming or at least reduce its awful effects on this country. I want to thank the Governor, for being here right on the spot. I want to thank the Mayor. He's always available. Our Borough President, our great Congressmen, who I worked with on these federal issues, Greg Meeks, John Liu, Daneek Miller and everyone who is here. Thank you. And now it's my honor to call on Mayor de Blasio.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Senator. Senator Schumer's right. We are in a whole new world now. Let's be blunt about it. We saw a horrifying storm last night, unlike anything we have seen before. And this is a reality we have to face. And unfortunately, the price paid by some New Yorkers was horrible and tragic. We have now lost nine New Yorkers to this storm. Nine people who were alive at this exact moment yesterday. No idea that such a horrible fate could befall them. Families in mourning right now. We need to be there for them and for all the New Yorkers who right now are dealing with the results of this horrifying storm. I want to thank Senator Schumer. We spoke earlier today. I know he will get us to maximum federal aid. Our homeowners need it. Our business owners need it. People are going through hell right now. They need help. I thank President Biden and Senator Schumer for being willing immediately to help. Governor Hochul, we spoke repeatedly last night, this morning. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for the way the State of New York responded.

We are truly all in this together. And storms affect all of us. But what we've got to recognize is the suddenness, the brutality of storms now, it is different. A record set two weeks ago, another record set now, rainfall like we haven't seen ever before. This is the biggest wakeup call we could possibly get. We're going to have to do a lot of things differently and quickly. But what is a constant is our first responders. I want to thank the men and women of the FDNY, EMS, NYPD, Environmental Protection, all the agencies that were out in force last night, rescuing hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers. So many lives were saved because of the fast courageous response of our first responders. People helped from a subway train safely. People helped out of a car in the flooded area. This happened literally hundreds of times last night. And God bless our first responders who were there. Got a lot of work to do right now to help New Yorkers recover. But we also have a lot of work to do to change the very approach. I agree with the Governor. It's time for an entirely different approach because we're getting a signal here. And it's not going to be easy. We're going to need all that help possible from the federal government. But in our time we have to make this change. We've gotten the message. We have to make a change to protect the lives of the people of this city. Thank you. And now I'd like to call on someone who has been tremendously helpful and always make sure that we get help in the city, Congress Member Gregory Meeks.

Congress Member Gregory Meeks: First, let me give my condolences to the family members, to the friends, the relatives, the neighbors on this block who have to be devastated. One day, it's a beautiful day. And we know that in Queens, neighborhoods are families. Block associations, working together, neighbors protecting neighbors’ homes. This is absolutely devastating. And my heart reaches out to each and every one on this block and in this family. A mother, a son, gone from us because of climate change and these record storm. Storms that were once in 500 years I'm told. Now that we've got to look at them to be storms in a regular manner. More intense as indicated. And so I want to thank – I spoke to Speaker Pelosi to make sure that we work very closely with Senator Schumer so there's no separation between the House and the Senate. And I thank all of the members of the United States Congress in bringing the resources here to the City of New York. Let me thank the Mayor and the Governor for their working on this instantaneously.

Now we happened to be here in Southeastern Queens in the Fifth Congressional District, knowing that we need infrastructure. It is absolutely, crucial and important that we pass reconciliation. One of the reasons why it's important, I know for flooding in Southeastern Queens, I have a request in now that was passed in the House, but it's got to be passed in the reconciliation bill, for some close to $4 million just for blocks like these. To improve the infrastructure and to stop the flooding that we know takes place here. If you just looked at what this place looked like, and there's pictures now at 10:00 pm last night, it was devastated. And finally, let me just say thank you to all of the men and women working and all of our emergency services and the heroes and sheroes as the Governor indicated from our transportation. And when I looked at the number of bus drivers and the people in the subway systems, getting people out into safety, also rescuing people that were stuck in their cars, they are really heroes, putting themselves at risk for the rest of us. So again, thank you. I want to thank my City Councilman, who had been working here for a long period of time in this very block, trying to make a difference for the people of this district, for all the hard work that you do in the City Council. And our former borough president, now DA Melinda Katz for all that she does. So, I now want to bring up the current borough president, who is working very hard to make sure that this borough receives all the infrastructure dollars and the attention that it rightfully needs, Donovan Richards.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards: Thank you, Congress Member. And thank you to both the Governor and the Mayor for their support this morning, went into the wee early morning hours. I want to thank all of the agencies. First off, let me start by saying that we mourn, all 2.4 million Queens residents more than the lives of those lost on the early morning hours due to this catastrophic storm. Let me also just say that we've surveyed a lot of different communities across the borough, and I'm happy to say that Rosedale and The Rockaways because of the investment by the City, I want to thank the Mayor for his $2 billion investment into Southern Queens. We definitely saw a lot – a different story this time around, based on that investment. But we know that's still not enough and that's why we're here today. We need Washington D.C. to move with a level of urgency. We've been here before in Hurricane Sandy. We still are waiting for the Rockaway Reformulation Plan. We have a Howard Beach plan. There are many parts of this borough that historically have flooded and it's only going to get worse. And unfortunately, if we do not address climate change, we will continue to lose lives across not just this borough, but across this country and state. And we don't have to look any further than Louisiana to see what also happened there as well.

A few things I want to mention to homeowners out there today. Please document all of your losses. I've spoken to some homeowners here, put a claim in with the Comptroller as well as with your insurance companies as well. I know that a lot of residents struggle with flood insurance, but these are some key things to do. I'm also asking companies to allow their workers to work remote on today. And if you're not an essential worker, to really stay off of the roads as well. For the neighborhoods of Whitestone, College Point, and parts of Flushing, Lefrak, I want you to know that we are here. I've asked the Governor on today, for assistance to our small businesses and to our homeowners as well. And she's given her stamp of approval on all of those things. So, there's a lot of work that needs to be done. We are not out of the woods. Queens needs to see much more infrastructure investment. We cannot wait until tomorrow. We need it today. These lives could have been saved if we had investment that we solely needed a long time ago. With that being said, it brings me great honor to bring up my colleague, someone who worked with me from my time being the Environmental Protection Chairman in the Council, him being Civil Service and Labor, someone who worked to secure $2 billion for South Queens, I. Daneek Miller. Thank you. 

City Council Member I. Daneek Miller: Good morning. First of all, my condolences to the [inaudible] family. And I want to thank the Governor, the Mayor, Senator Schumer, Congress Member, Borough President. And this is collaboration of folks, of government that have come together to address this issue. And they've done so – very well-articulated the issues of climate change and infrastructure or the lack thereof, but all politics are local, and I think the Congressman had mentioned that we have – I have spent the better part of 10 years on the street here. And I probably had about six to 12 inches of water in my basement this morning. But I always say that you feel like the man with no shoes until you come over here on 183rd Street, and then you see the man with no feet, right? Where – I bet you, this is my mother. Every time you get to a mic it’s – 

Governor Hochul: Tell your mom you’re okay. Have you talked to your mom – 

Mayor: You got to pick that up – 

Governor Hochul: Mom, your son is doing okay, he’s doing a press conference – 


[Inaudible] little boy in good hands [inaudible] –  

Council Member Miller: Oh my gosh – 


Governor Hochul: He’s looking good, he’s safe.  

Senator Schumer: Got to make sure it’s his mother –  

Council Member Miller: It’s my mother – 

Governor Hochul: It’s mom. Call your mom later –  

Council Member Miller: So, yeah, we felt like the – until you see the person with no feet, where folks here have a foot of water on the first floor and not in the basement. And the cruel irony is, as Borough President Richards indicated, of the $2 billion in infrastructure that was spent, nearly half the City's infrastructure budget spent here in Southeast Queens, the priority was 183rd Street. When that schedule came out, we said, no, don't Cambria Heights, don't do Springfield Gardens, do 183rd Street first. And guess what, they did. And then they did it again because it wasn't done right the first time. And we're still here today. And so there has to be oversight and we have to figure out what we're not doing right. That we have to make sure that these folks, that every time it rains, that they're not out here. Every time it rains my staff and I, we have the hot spots, as the Borough President knows, you call over here, you call certain areas in Springfield Gardens to see if it's working. And guess what, two weeks ago, when we had the major flood then, the record breaker, we were okay. This was different. And the loss of lives are unacceptable. We absolutely have to make sure that we're taking care of families and want to just say that this group of folks here are the epitome of resiliency. They take care of each other, they feed each other, they house each other. And we're here with you. We're going to continue to be here with you. Again, I want to thank the Governor, Senator Schumer, the Mayor just for the collaboration of resources that are going to be here in Queens. We want to make sure that we're all here to make sure that this is done equitably and that these folks here that have been suffering so long, suffer no more. Thank you 

Governor Hochul: Well, at this point, we'll take questions, but I also want to make a statement before we go on to questions. To the people who live on streets like these throughout the city of New York, I want them to know a new administration, my administration, we don't govern by press conference. Yes, we're here today to answer questions, but I want to assure them it's not just about today, it's what we do tomorrow, the next day and the next day. So, you're going to see a different tone, a different era of collaboration. And I served as a council member for 14 years, so I've been in the streets for a long time to know what it takes to get the job done. You don't just show up one day. You show up until the job is done. And with that, we'll take questions. Marcia – 

Mayor: Marcia. Marcia, Marcia – 

Governor Hochul:  I also want to acknowledge the presence of our Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams has joined us as well. And Senator John Lui has joined us.  

Question: [Inaudible]  

Governor Hochul: Yeah. Excellent questions. Those are my questions this morning when I spoke to the leadership at the MTA. Here's what we need to do, we need to identify the areas where we have vulnerabilities on our streets, where the drainage systems are not functioning properly, and they're close to the entrance of a subway, and we need to be able to fix those first so we don't get a situation where the drainage system, the sewer system can't handle the volume. And then the water just creates a river down the steps and into the subway system. I think that's our first priority. I know that's my first priority. So, I want to also have an after-action report on this. What did we know and when do we know what we had, what information did we have? Are there any intelligence failures in terms of our preparedness? I know I deployed resources yesterday morning, but we did not know that between 8:50 and 9:50 PM last night that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls level water to the streets of New York. Could that have been anticipated? I want to find out. Is that something we should have known in advance? And the question is, should we have shutdown subways earlier? You have to realize many people were already on the subways. We shut them down, they're trapped underground. That is not an option, but I want to assess why we don't stop people from – new passengers from going down the stairs into them. It all should be about evacuation, not bringing new people into the system at the time. And your first question was – 

Question: [Inaudible]  

Governor Hochul: There were storm warnings, tornado warnings throughout the evening. And – but I’ll see whether or not more could have been done. That's a good question. 

Question: [Inaudible] damage at MTA rail yard [inaudible]? 

Governor Hochul: Yeah. We have damage. We have damage and I'm going to be out visiting some of the sites right now, and we'll be embedded with FEMA personnel. This is what happens first. Everything has to settle down, stabilize, make sure we're protecting life and property, job number one. Number two, within a few days, we go out there with the FEMA crews, literally add up the extent of the damage, file for our declaration with the federal government, and this is again, what would President Biden assured me. He said, Kathy, I'm going to do this for you, you tell me what you need. So, we're prepared to pick all those steps starting right now. 

Question: And for Mayor de Blasio, we just heard from a neighbor who said they had been asking for help about the sewers. Can you or someone maybe from [inaudible] DEP [inaudible] DOT, can you explain why this was seemingly such a failure on the part of the City where [inaudible] neighbors not even in flood zones [inaudible] flooding, people couldn’t get out, they weren’t notified [inaudible]. 

Mayor:  Let me get our DEP Commissioner, I think is here, Vinnie Sapienza, who can speak to the specifics, have him come over. Look, as you heard from Congressman Meeks and from Borough President Richards and Council Member Miller, over the last few years, we made a $2 billion investment in addressing the infrastructure problems in Southeast Queens, including the sewer problems. This is a, tragically, very long-standing problem. And one of the things that became clear was we were going to have to make an extraordinary investment to address it. As you've heard, that investment is having an impact, but it's not complete. It's been going on for years, it will take some more years to finish. In terms of the impact of investments here in this immediate area. Commissioner Vinnie Sapienza, DEP.  

Commissioner Vincent Sapienza, Department of Environmental Protection: Thanks, Mayor.  

Mayor: Here we go. 

Commissioner Sapienza: Yeah. So, thanks. So, a couple of things, one is the rate of rainfall that occurred was just really extraordinary. Council Member Miller mentioned that the storm we had, you know, a couple of weeks ago with the remnants of Henri, which is about the same total amount of rainfall that fell, but this all fell really within a very short window, few hours. And I think that was a big difference. As the Mayor said, you know, we recognized, in this area of Southeast Queens, an investment was needed. It was long overdue. The Mayor announced a $2 billion commitment a few years back, and that work is well underway.  

Question: [Inaudible] flooding in Woodside, Forest Hills [inaudible] explain there?  

Commissioner Sapienza: Yeah. So, we're going to do that full hydraulic assessment, but rainfall rates were really extraordinary and far exceeded the capacity of the system. Anything over two inches an hour, we're going to have trouble with. 

Unknown: [Inaudible] question to Gloria. Last question to Gloria. 

Question: Follow-up on [inaudible] you are all talking – and Governor, for you, and for all of you as well, you’re talking about how this is a warning call, a warning but the fact is we’ve been having these events and people here are talking about how this happens all the time [inaudible] last couple of days, and you’re talking about the need for investment [inaudible] say to people who are right now who aren’t sure the time it rains a lot that they are going to be in this same position that they were in last night and that their lives are in danger?  

Governor Hochul: I have been to so many catastrophic flooding events from Lake Ontario to Long Island to now, to the city. So, no, this is not unusual anymore. Anyone who says it's once in a century, once in 500 years, I don't – I'm not buying it. This has to be considered the normal course of business. So, we need to take steps to prepare. We should have evacuation plans that every single homeowner knows about, what you do when the waters start rising. Is our communication system adequate to let people know in homes and on subways that this is dangerous? Are alerts going out on people's cell phones? How do we communicate? And are we doing a good enough job? Because I'm not going to stand here and guarantee it won't happen again tomorrow. I don't know that, but I know we need to do much more in our resiliency, addressing climate change. And we have an aggressive program that I'm going to even take to the next level, but that's long-term. That's not going to help the people on this street. I'm not going to pretend it will. What I'm talking about is letting them know we've got their backs. We'll help them heal. We'll get them the resources from the federal government once they get that declaration and let them know we're not satisfied either. This is not okay with any of us.  

Mayor: Hold on. Let me add, let me add, let me add. Gloria, to your question. I think we now understand that every attempt at projection bluntly is failing us. Let's be clear. We're getting from the very best experts, projections that then are made a mockery of in a matter of minutes. What I want to work with the Governor on, and by her comments you can see she's already there, we need to start communicating to people that we should assume things are going to be much worse in literally every situation. Yesterday morning, the report was three to six inches over the course of the whole day, which was not a particularly problematic amount that turned into the biggest single hour of rainfall in New York City history with almost no warning. So, now we've got to change the ground rules. From now on, what I think we do is tell New Yorkers to expect the very, very worst. It may sound alarmist at times, but unfortunately, it's being proven by nature. The infrastructure investments – look, $2 billion to Southeast Queens is a big deal. But what we're seeing is we're going to need more than we ever possibly imagined. Thank God for the first time in our lifetimes almost, the federal government is finally truly committed to infrastructure spending. But I think what's – I don't think it's too little too late. I think it would have helped us a hell of a lot more a few decades ago, but we're going to be playing a lot of catch up but we're talking not billions, tens of billions, even hundreds of billions to really be able to make people safe.  

Congress Member Meeks: Let me just say one thing on that. The $3.5 million that we're trying to get through in the reconciliation bill is to deal just with that. That's why that's such a big issue in Washington, D. C. Not just the 1.8 for infrastructure, but when we're talking about climate change, when you're talking about housing, when you're talking about making sure that we have the resilience for the future, not for today, just for today, but for the future, we must get this $3.5 trillion bill done. And that's what it's all about in Washington, D. C.  And we’re coming together to do that.  

Mayor: Thank you –  

Governor Hochul: Thank you, everybody –  

Question: [Inaudible]  

Mayor: Who are you asking? 

Question: [Inaudible]  

Mayor: Do you have the specifics? 

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea: Just first, our hearts go out to all the victims. It's an unimaginable loss for New York City and for Queens. Right now, and we pray that the number does not go up further, we have nine confirmed victims. Eight of the nine victims are in the borough of Queens. Eight of the nine victims also took place in residential homes in basements. The latest victim that we have is an individual that passed away after a vehicle accident on the Grand Central Parkway. And that individual was discovered in the backseat of the car within the last hour. So, again, we pray that the number does not go up from there and certainly in the NYPD and all City workers, our hearts go out to all the victims for this terrible tragedy. 


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