Pat D'Auria, of Sayville, was one of many Long Island homeowners surprised by the frequency of flooding caused by winter rainstorms. Newsday real estate reporter Arielle Dollinger reports. Credit: Gary Licker; John Roca; Alexander Thyberg / Servpro of Ronkonkoma

A butter-yellow fire hydrant as his measuring stick, John Scimeca estimated his Lindenhurst street had become a pool 2 feet deep. In his garage, water brushed the undercarriage of Scimeca’s white Cadillac Escalade.

Had a car driven down the dead-end street, he said, the main house likely would have flooded, too.

"People don’t understand that when they drive through this water, it can make the difference of water entering a house," Scimeca said.

During two January rainstorms in a one-week span, Scimeca was one of many affected by the severity and frequency of the wintertime rain — triggering what some local officials called the worst flooding since Superstorm Sandy.  

WHAT TO KNOW

  • January's flooding surprised many Long Islanders, even those who live along the water on the South Shore and are accustomed to the risk.
  • Mitigating water damage can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $20,000 and take up to a week, an expert said. If there is mold present, the cost increases.
  • Homebuyers have to weigh the risk and reward of living near the water, particularly on the flood-prone South Shore, Newsday meteorologist Bill Korbel said.

As vice president of a construction company for an affordable housing developer, Scimeca, 59, was able to make the necessary garage repairs himself. But others who live in Long Island's waterside communities were left looking for long- and short-term solutions that required some to lay out thousands of dollars.

Why was January's flooding so bad?

The recent rain was "a major event," said Newsday meteorologist Bill Korbel in the days between the two rainstorms.

"A lot of people will say it's the worst they've seen on the South Shore since Sandy," Korbel said. "Flooding was, you know, hip deep in some spots, a very bad situation; and unfortunately, here comes another one, right behind it."

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While two significant storms in a week is unusual, Korbel said, it is not illogical.

"Weather's full of patterns, full of variables," Korbel said. "To see two back to back is odd, but if the weather pattern doesn't change too much large scale you'll tend to get the same thing in a given spot over and over."

Counting a December rainstorm, Korbel noted, Long Islanders have experienced three significant flooding and beach erosion events in less than a month.

Saltwater is often a complication, according to Korbel, and freshwater rainfall flooding is often conflated with coastal flooding. Saltwater is more corrosive than freshwater.

The flooding was also influenced by factors including the amount of rain that falls within a time period, wind speed and direction and the maintenance of neighborhood bulkheads and storm drains.

"A thunderstorm can cause a lot of rain; a few years ago, we had a foot of rain at MacArthur Airport in three hours, from a thunderstorm," Korbel said. "Coastal flooding is saltwater. And that is what affects a huge area."

Floods 'unusual,' even for South Shore homeowners

Pat D'Auria with Servpro tech Alexander Thyberg in front of...

Pat D'Auria with Servpro tech Alexander Thyberg in front of her Sayville home on Jan. 13. Her basement had nearly 3 inches of water. Credit: John Roca

We all get a little bit of water here ... but this was really unusual. I’ve never had water like I had in my basement.

— Pat D'Auria, of Sayville

As the floodwater receded, the river crested. Water crept through concrete, seeped through soil and collected on the surface.

Against the whir of fans set to dry the ground, Pat D’Auria’s footsteps were soft. She switched the fans off, realizing she would need to call professionals to extract water from her basement for the second time in a few days.

Three houses from D’Auria’s Sayville residence is Brown’s Creek, known colloquially as a river. Flooding is not uncommon at the seafood restaurant at the end of the road, which overlooks the water, D’Auria said; but the flooding that reached her house during January’s rainstorms was unexpected.

"We all get a little bit of water here, you know, on this block; but this was really unusual," said D'Auria, 62, who works as an interior designer. "I’ve never had water like I had in my basement."

Mid-January rain, which arrived in two bouts several days apart, left about 3 inches of water in the entirety of D'Auria's home’s lower level at its worst. The hot water heater and boiler are on cinder blocks, and remained just out of reach of the floodwater.

D'Auria has a pump to control water levels in one area of the space, but not the other. She and others have questioned the efficacy of nearby storm drains, wondering whether town or village maintenance could lessen the impact of heavy rain and rising tides.

"It was like water in a bathtub; it was just sitting there," D’Auria said. "I didn’t know how high it was going to get."

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Cathy Fallon and her husband had to rebuild their Babylon Village home — the first house on a canal off Great South Bay. The property has been in the family since the 1970s.

Now raised, Fallon’s main house did not flood in January’s rainstorms; but a cottage on the property and the driveway did.

"It comes up from the road drains," Fallon said. "It doesn’t even come over our bulkhead."

Village officials tell residents where to park their cars before a storm, Fallon said. She and her husband moved both vehicles before the recent rain.

"We would’ve lost our two cars, on Tuesday, because it came up that high," Fallon said on Jan. 12. "It’s all that saltwater."

How much can flood, rain damage cost to fix?

Servpro Ronkonkoma works in Pat D'Auria's basement, which sustained several...

Servpro Ronkonkoma works in Pat D'Auria's basement, which sustained several inches of flooding. Credit: John Roca

D'Auria called Servpro Ronkonkoma, a franchised company that handles water and fire damage, to pump the water out of the basement. The company visited twice, after each of two rain events. With tax, the service cost her almost $2,400, she said. Her insurance company told her that to file a claim, with her $2,000 deductible, would mean an increase in her annual premium — currently approximately $1,200 — and cost her more money in the end.

During storms, Servpro Ronkonkoma senior project manager Devin Santiago often sees an increase in self-paid water jobs.

A lot of people had flooded basements; their drains for their basement doors, they couldn’t hold the water that was outside.

— Devin Santiago, Servpro Ronkonkoma senior project manager

Michael Hughes, of Magic Home Restoration, said he and his colleagues had been "running around like chickens with our head cut off," responding to callers with up to 3 feet of water in their homes.

"A lot of people had flooded basements; their drains for their basement doors, they couldn’t hold the water that was outside," Santiago said.

The primary goal is to "stabilize the property," Santiago said. The company extracts as much water as possible from the structure, sets up fans and sometimes removes drywall insulation or flooring.

"What you want to do is get the indoor environment stabilized, to prevent it from turning into secondary damage such as mold and all that other crazy stuff," Santiago said. "Once they are stabilized and everything dries out — you know it’s clean, it’s sanitized — we’ll introduce them to our rebuild department, where we would come in and then we’d give an estimate to make repairs to the property."

Servpro can respond as soon as water is no longer coming into the home, Santiago said. The crew size varies, ranging from two workers to about 40. Pricing depends on the situation.

"Some people have empty properties, some people have the house packed to the gills; so it really depends on what you’re walking into," Santiago said. "For self-pay water losses that are residential, it could be anywhere from like, starting off from like $1,500, could go up to like five grand, depending on the size of the house."

Whether a project takes hours or days depends on the extent of the damage. A storm damage remediation company looks first to dry the space and prevent the growth of mold, then can discuss any necessary repairs.

As the CEO of BoomZeal Enterprises Inc., which runs various home service companies on Long Island, Phil DePaul estimates an emergency service call to his company for only the extraction of standing floodwater from an unfinished basement typically costs around $750 or more.

If a basement is finished, it often suffers more damage and requires the removal of materials like drywall and carpet, he said. A water damage mitigation job for a finished basement might cost anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000 and take approximately three to seven days, DePaul said. If there is mold present, the cost increases.

The price range for repairs and reconstruction might be the same, DePaul said, and is dependent upon the finishes. These projects might take one to three weeks to complete, he said. 

Commercial property, which tends to include more square footage, is pricier, Santiago said. Regardless of the circumstance, the long-term objective, Hughes said, is to prevent homeowners who have experienced flooding and paid for repairs from finding themselves in the same situation repeatedly.

What to know if you want to live near the water

Terry Street in Sayville was still flooded on Jan. 13.

Terry Street in Sayville was still flooded on Jan. 13. Credit: John Roca

As within making any decision, choosing where to live involves risk-reward analysis.

"If you want to live near the water, you have to understand, especially South Shore, there is always flooding, periodically — may not be every year, may be twice in one week like this — that will occur, and you have to decide whether that’s going to be the factor to keep you living on higher ground," Korbel said.

In general, Long Island’s South Shore is hit hardest, Korbel said. Wind from the south pushes water against the barrier beaches, through the inlets and into the bays. In January, the rainstorms’ proximity to a new moon caused even higher tides.

Referencing Superstorm Sandy as a benchmark, Korbel said the most severe flooding in Nassau County tends to be south of Merrick Road.

"A northeast storm, where the wind comes from the northeast, might make more flooding on the Sound; but there, the terrain rises more quickly," Korbel said. "South Shore, it’s shallow. From sea level, you have to go several miles inland to get it above 15, 20 feet sometimes, so those are the flooding areas."

Real estate agent Leah Tozer, who grew up on Long Island’s South Shore, cautions prospective buyers to do their research and the legwork. If a basement has been redone, ask whether there has ever been water damage there.

Ask for the elevation certificate and the flood history of the property, including the flood loss payout, she said. And this applies to all prospective buyers, she emphasizes — not only those shopping in flood-prone areas.

"You’re making a big investment," Tozer said in January. "You just have to know what you’re getting into, and then know if it’s something that you’re comfortable with."

Rather than taking anyone else’s word for it, Tozer encourages prospective buyers to seek the information out for themselves.

"There's one thing I tell people to do," Tozer told Newsday late last summer. "If you want to buy a house, and it’s on the water, if you didn’t go there at high tide, low tide, and when it rains at high tide, and when it rains at low tide, then you’re not buying that house."

What to do before flooding strikes

As the CEO of BoomZeal Enterprises Inc., which runs various home service companies on Long Island, Phil DePaul advised homeowners have their property assessed by a licensed, reputable company before considering solutions like foundation waterproofing and French drain installation. He offered homeowners the following advice:

Check the roof

Inspect and maintain your roof for signs of damage, including missing or damaged shingles.

Clear the drainage system.

Clear gutters, downspouts and drains of debris. Otherwise, these features can cause water backup and property damage.

Grade accordingly

Check to see that the ground surrounding a property slopes away from the foundation. This prevents water from pooling near the structure.

Check the sump pump

For those with a sump pump in a basement or crawl space, it is crucial to make sure the pump is working properly.

Seal cracks in the foundation

Check the foundation for any significant cracks, and seal them. This can prevent water from getting in and protect the structural integrity of the property.

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