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‘Water Filled the Whole Bus Up to the Seats’: Scenes From New York’s Climate Apocalypse Flooding

How New Yorkers—the vast majority of whom were unaware in the morning of what lay in wait for them on their commutes—navigated Friday's flood waters, stalled trains, and drowning buses. 

(Hell Gate)

As a punishing rain storm bore down on New York City Friday, New Yorkers—the vast majority of whom were unaware in the morning of what lay in wait for them on their commutes—navigated flood waters, stalled trains, and drowning buses. 

Blake Gillespie was commuting from Hell's Kitchen to the Brooklyn Navy Yard this morning around 9 a.m., and had just transferred from the A train to the B57 bus. When the bus hit Flushing Avenue, riders began to notice that floodwater was high enough that it was beginning to seep onto the floor of the bus. 

"The situation went from people trying to tell the driver a little water is leaking in, to people terrified and calling 911 as the bus filled with water and it looked as though we might be stuck," Gillespie told Hell Gate. 

He took this video of the bus filling up with water: 

"It was a good 15 minutes of panic and everyone getting as high up as they could while water filled the whole bus up to the seats. Only folks in the raised part in the back were able to avoid the flooding," Gillespie said. 

But the MTA bus driver kept his cool, navigating the bus out of the water and safely onto Park Avenue, where he gave riders the option to either get off the bus or stay on while he finished his route. 

"People were scared and shouting at him the whole time, but he navigated the bus out of danger without ever speaking to the passengers, to my knowledge," Gillespie said. 

Elsewhere in the city, municipal employees were ordered into work, with supervisors apparently caught as flat-footed by the flooding as the mayor. 

"My supervisor sent a message at 9:30 [a.m.] saying be careful if you're commuting," said an employee with the City's Department of Health, who asked that we withhold their name in order to speak freely. The first communication they received from the City regarding the flooding was at 1:28 p.m. on Friday, telling workers to avoid travel, hours after people had already commuted to work. 

"When I arrived, most people had called out or turned around and went back home. The commute back was a nightmare," the DOH employee told us. 

Even amidst the downpour, delivery workers continued to keep New Yorkers well-stocked with takeout. 

On Avenue A, Juan, who declined to give his last name, didn't see today as being all that different from other rainy days. He was rushing between deliveries. 

"It's more or less the same," he told Hell Gate in Spanish. "Before, we made bigger tips, not so much this year." 

He said it was dangerous to navigate city streets on days like today. He had commuted to the city this morning from New Jersey, taking New Jersey Transit, but said his own commute went well. 

Another delivery worker, covered entirely in plastic rain gear, said that he had no time to talk. "I just picked up this order and it says I'm already two minutes late!" he told Hell Gate, before zipping down the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, around 1:30 p.m., the concrete triangle where Flatbush, Fourth Avenue, and Atlantic Avenue meet in an ugly snarl bloomed with umbrellas—black, blue, clear, rainbow, Burberry plaid, and one in a particularly stylish snakeskin pattern—held by some 50 or 60 New Yorkers while they waited for one of three southbound buses. Trucks, cars, and electric scooters drove by the assembled crowd; a Mitzvah tank blared uptempo music that felt totally incongruous with waiting for the bus on a gray, rainy day.

People craned their necks in the hope of seeing a bus make its way down Flatbush; umbrellas snagged against each other as pedestrians moved through the crowd, and turned inside out when a gust of wind hit them at the wrong angle. A man in a tractor-yellow rain jacket shouted to no one in particular about the spike in Uber prices he was watching happen in real-time on the app. "God is good," a woman said, on a phone call with someone lucky enough to be elsewhere. "But this is a mess!"

One couple, Abby and Alasdair, who declined to give their last names, said they'd been waiting at the stop for at least half an hour. But that wasn't so bad, they said, in comparison to the two hours they spent earlier in the morning, when they were stuck underground between stations on the Q train on their commute into Manhattan. By mid-afternoon, they'd abandoned that mission—all they wanted was to get back to their apartment in Flatbush. 

But half an hour later, Abby and Alasdair were still at the same stop—and the crowd, though thinner, was still at least a couple dozen people deep. Every bus that arrived was stuffed to the gills with other wet, cranky passengers, and it was tough to get a spot. Competition was stiff for the other transit option, too—the white dollar vans with their blacked-out windows, which screeched to a halt every so often and picked off members of the crowd who were lucky enough (or had enough foresight) to have cash handy. 

"Do you take Cash App?" a woman in a TSA uniform asked a dollar van driver. "Thank God," she said, when he replied in the affirmative. "You're the only one!" She snagged a seat near the front of the bus, before sending him $5—a little more than the $2 asking price—and began singing along quietly to the Bob Marley songs the driver was playing that soundtracked the drive through Park Slope, down into Flatbush.

As the flood waters began to recede, reporter Olivia Bensimon began seeing the bodies of some victims of today's intense flooding—the bloated corpses of rats washing up on Brooklyn streets, flushed from the sewers below. She shared photos of the corpses with Hell Gate, opining, "I don't think one is meant to see so many dead, suffocated rats in such a short amount of time."

(Courtesy of the collection of Olivia Bensimon)
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