Hurricane Ida's death toll in NYC rises to 12 after record rains and lethal flooding

·6 min read

NEW YORK — A dozen doomed New Yorkers, all but one trapped inside flash-flooded basement apartments, were killed when the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida unleashed a lethal summer storm across a rain-soaked city, authorities said Thursday.

The dead, including an autistic 14-month-old boy and an 86-year-old woman, became victims of catastrophic flooding after the devastating weather system dumped record-breaking rain on the boroughs.

Neighbors recounted horrifying tales of basements flooded from floor to ceiling in the blink of an eye, with the victims helpless to escape the surging waters.

The tiniest victim, Lobsang Lama, perished with his immigrant parents inside their Queens basement home after they were trapped by fast-rising floodwaters. His father Ang Lama, 50, and mother Mingma Sherpa, 48, were also killed as the deadly flooding filled their Woodside home — and even the first-floor apartment above.

“The baby was so cute,” said the little boy’s grief-stricken teacher Martha Suarez after arriving Thursday morning for her daily session with the child at the family’s home on 64th Street and Laurel Hill Boulevard. “Just a happy boy, very nice family ... They didn’t call me, they didn’t cancel me, so I was coming as usual.”

The 53-year-old Suarez burst into tears, taking deep breaths, after arriving to find the family apartment where she started work this week blocked off by police tape and surrounded by the media.

“This is too hard for me,” she said, adding that the family was originally from Nepal.

The building owner, who lives on the third floor, received a desperate call for help from the doomed family in the downstairs apartment, said Deborah Torres, 38, who lives directly above the doomed family.

“The owner said, ‘Get out! Get out from the basement!’ And when she called again they never picked up,” Torres said.

Torres watched in horror as her sofa began bobbing on the rising water in her home.

“I wasn’t paying attention to my things — I was so worried about the family downstairs,” Torres said. “It was so fast. My daughter started to scream, ‘Mommy! Mommy! The water’s coming up!’”

The 84-year-old victim was found dead just before midnight Wednesday when her son came to the basement apartment on 84th Street near 55th Road in Elmhurst, cops said. Neighbors said the local streets were flooded as building residents tried in vain to rescue the doomed senior citizen.

“I guess they didn’t know where to find her,” said a neighbor on the second floor building. “Everyone’s rushing in, trying to get to her.”

Neighbor Jan Huang, a retired senior citizen, said the victim lived in a house owned by her son in an area known for flooding.

“Oh my God,” she said. “That’s so sad. I feel sorry for her. This really shouldn’t happen.”

First responders found an unresponsive mother and son in a flooded Hollis basement apartment after a wall gave way Wednesday, instantly filling the room with water before NYPD divers dramatically rescued another building resident at 11:15 p.m.

Khrishah Ramskriet, 22, perished inside the home while his mom Phamatee Ramskriet, 43, died at Queens Hospital after officials arrived at the scene. The divers who recovered the bodies also saved building owner Ragenbra Shivprafab’s 39-year-old son Amit, who tried to rescue the downstairs neighbors.

“These cops were giving their lives to get them,” Shivprafab said. “My son was scrambling to get down. He was already in, trying to get them, and the cops pulled him out. He would have died too.”

The dead woman’s husband and another son survived, said Shivprafab, who lives in the building and urged the family to flee before it was too late.

“I go down there and I tell them, ‘You guys got to be careful. The water’s rising. We’re getting a flood,’” said Shivprafab, 71. “I go back and tell them (again), ‘You guys got to get out! They were packing up their stuff to bring out. I told them that is not important. Leave the stuff.’

“Then she and her son died.”

Shiprafab said the wife started screaming as the apartment flooded and he was up to his waist within seconds of telling the family to run for their lives. The water was still pouring in when his son Amit launched an ill-fated rescue try.

“I couldn’t even see where I was going. That’s how bad it was,” the son said. “The water force hit the door and broke it with me coming right back out. I almost went down but good thing I held onto the doorknob.”

About 15 minutes after the horrific Hollis tragedy, a 66-year-old Brooklyn man — after surviving COVID-19 — was found dead in his flooded basement apartment on Ridgewood Avenue in East New York.

The brother of victim Roberto Bravo called his sibling four times in 12 minutes Wednesday night, urging him to leave the apartment after the skies opened up. Pablo Bravo braced for the worse when his 10:06 p.m. call went unanswered.

“I don’t think he took it that serious,” the devastated sibling said Thursday. “I think he believed he had plenty of time to get out and now I find out that the water pressure locked the doors. I don’t know what was in his mind.”

Pablo said three other family members escaped with their lives from the building, where the basement had previously suffered minor flooding.

“But this time it was so fast,” he said. “The basement was filled from bottom to ceiling.”

About 10:45 p.m., police responding to flooding inside the basement of an apartment building on Grand Central Parkway near 62nd Drive in Corona found Darlene Hsu, 48, unconscious, officials said. She died after EMS transported her to Long Island Jewish Forest Hills.

The victim’s ex-husband Dennis Tsu said her death was a freak accident while she visited with the building super in his basement apartment.

“He got called away,” explained Tsu. “He had to go take care of the pumps. My understanding is when he left the windows blew out ... and the all the waters rushed into the apartment.”

When Darlene tried to flee, he said, the surging water slammed the door shut, blocking her exit.

“She was a very loving, caring person,” he said. “She loved the beach. She loved swimming, she loved the outdoors.”

Three more bodies were discovered about 11:40 a.m. Monday by the super of an apartment building on Peck Avenue next to Kissena Park in Queens. NYPD divers recovered the corpses of the two women and a man from the still-flooded basement. Cops were not been able to immediately identify the victims.

“We believe they were trapped with flood waters but there are some issues detectives are going to have to investigate,” said NYPD Chief of Community Affairs Jeffrey Maddrey.

The 12th victim, the only one not killed in a subterranean flood, was discovered about 10:45 a.m. on the Grand Central Parkway near LaGuardia Airport. Police found a charred body inside a burned out car that had been rear-ended — a death they believe was flood-related. Cops were working to identify the victim, who was burned beyond recognition.

The carnage could have easily been even worse, with firefighters spending the hectic night rescuing “hundreds of people citywide” during the storm, an FDNY spokesman said.

Firefighters removed people from trapped vehicles and flooded roadways, and escorted hundreds of people from flooded subway stations.

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(Michael Gartland contributed to this story.)

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