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New York City was ill-prepared for Tropical Storm Ophelia, investigators say. Here's why.

New York City wasn't ready for Tropical Storm Ophelia, investigation finds
New York City wasn't ready for Tropical Storm Ophelia, investigation finds 01:57

NEW YORK -- New York City's response to Tropical Storm Ophelia in 2023 was plagued by poor planning, low staffing and miscommunication, a new report from the city comptroller's office says.  

At the storm's peak, parts of Brooklyn saw more than three inches of rainfall per hour.  

As a result of the flooding and damage left behind, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander's office launched an investigation into the city's response to extreme storms.

It found:

  • Two-thirds of the city's catch basin cleaning trucks were out of service when Tropical Storm Ophelia hit.
  • Broad and high-profile public communications only picked up after flash flooding already started impacting communities. 
  • Only 2.7% of New Yorkers 16 and older received Notify NYC alerts. 

"A lack of clear communications and preparedness made the city's response to the storm worse," said Lander. 

The report's recommendations

Lander's office made several recommendations, including:

  • Expanding the city's emergency communications beyond the limited number of New Yorkers who currently receive Notify NYC alerts. 
  • MTA, DOT and DEP should dramatically expand subway flood protection improvements. 
  • DEP should improve storm water infrastructure assessments to maintain a state of good repair. 

"If there's a better response, I would welcome it wholeheartedly," Hayes said. 

City Hall responds to report

A City Hall spokesperson responded with the following statement: 

We are glad that the comptroller's report recognized the important work of our city agencies to prepare New York City for extreme weather. Since the start of the administration, we have invested billions of dollars in climate infrastructure that has already started to save lives and prevent damage to properties — just take the Jewel Streets project, where the first phase of our $75 million flood management investment got this neighborhood dry in a few hours, as opposed to the weeks it took during Hurricane Ida. And in the face of Tropical Storm Ophelia — which brought more total rainfall than Ida in some parts of the city — our city agencies inspected over 900 catch basins, distributed thousands of flood barriers, rain barrels, and other protective tools, and got the word out to millions of New Yorkers two days ahead of the event. We will continue to build on these short- and long-term flood preparedness efforts.

Rain still brings worry for Brooklyn restaurant owner

Kelly Hayes took a hit rebuilding parts of the basement at her Brooklyn restaurant, Gowanus Gardens. 

"This used to sit on the ground, but now it's bolted to the ceiling," said Hayes, pointing to equipment in her basement. 

After the storm in Sept. 2023, Hayes was dealing with nearly one foot of water in her basement and thousands of dollars in damages. 

Today, she fears her small business will flood every time it rains. 

"We watch flood net sensors. We watch the weather map radar," said Hayes. 

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