Harrowing bodycam footage capture the moment a NYPD officer tried unsuccessfully to dive into a flooded apartment to rescue a family who drowned inside as Ida brought record rainfall to New York.
The gut-wrenching video shows the policeman standing in dirty water nearly reaching his shoulders in the staircase leading to the door of the family’s basement apartment, with a light on overhead.
He is surrounded by water that is so deep the door to the family’s apartment is completely submerged beneath it, while an unseen colleague films on their bodcycam.
Heartbreakingly, plush children’s toys float past as the cop tries to attempt a rescue, with a can of Lysol disinfectant spray also seen bobbing on the surface.
The officer eventually dives into the water for several seconds before the other officer whose body cam is recording also goes underwater.
His colleague, who stood back slightly and filmed the rescue attempt, temporarily went underwater, with the lens capturing just how dirty and murky the liquid was, with visibility close to zero.
The police department confirmed that three bodies were found drowned inside the underground apartment when officers were finally able to get inside. They belonged to Ang Gelu Lama, 50, his wife Mingma Sherpa, 48, and the Nepalese couple’s two-year-old son, Lobsang ‘Ang.’
NYPD body cam footage shows the ‘valiant efforts’ made by police officers who attempted to rescue a family of three from their basement apartment
The footage shows the officers standing in murky water up to their chest with plush toys floating around as they try to break into the flooded apartment in Queens
After diving underwater in the flooded stairway in an attempt to gain access through the locked door of the basement apartment the NYPD called the FDNY for backup
NYPD confirmed that the family of three were found drowned in their apartment
Mingma Sherpa, 48, (Pic 1 left) Ang Gelu Lama, 50, (Pic 1 right) and their two-year-old son were found dead in their basement apartment in Woodside, Queens. Two-year-old Lobsang ‘Ang’ was found dead with his parents on Thursday morning.
The family of three were trapped in their basement by the flood waters that pressed against their one door and quickly filled the apartment
Ang Lama (left) and his son, Lobsang Lama (right), were living in a basement apartment in Woodside, Queens with two other families living above them
NYPD confirmed that without special equipment the officers on the scene ‘made valiant efforts but that ‘locked doors, rising water level and live electricity’ prevented them from successfully entering the flooding apartment.
The officer then called FDNY to aid them in their attempted rescue but it was too late for the family of three who were found dead in their basement apartment on 64th Street in Woodside, Queens on Thursday morning.
Water from the flash flood – caused by remnants of Hurricane Ida – began pouring into the family’s basement apartment around 9:30pm Wednesday, as Sherpa frantically dialed her upstairs neighbor for help, Choi Sledge told The New York Times.
‘The water is coming in right now…The water coming in from the window!’ Sherpa purportedly yelled down the phone to Sledge, who lives on the complex’s third floor.
Choi told The Times that she urged the family to ‘get out’ and make their way upstairs but when Choi tried to call back minutes later there was no answer.
The basement apartment features just one door, and occupants can only leave by climbing the external flight of stairs where the officers attempted to break in.
Deborah Torres (right) talks to police as they stand outside her Queens home where her downstairs neighbors drowned in the flood waters caused by Hurricane Ida Thursday, September 2
Police tapped off the scene of at the residence on 64th Street in Woodside, Queens Thursday September 2
The Medical Examiner Forensic Operations Unit arrived at the scene of the family’s drowning Thursday September 2
Baby Lobsang’s stroller is seen in the yard of the immigrant family’s house in Queens Thursday September 2
After finding three drowned bodies, FDNY continued to investigate the scene of the deaths Thursday, September 2
Deborah Torres, 38, who lives on the first floor of the complex, says she believes the staircase would have been cascading with rushing water, making it impossible for the family to escape due to the pressure it was exerting on their front door.
The water in her first floor apartment began to rise to her knees and float her furniture as the family was still trapped in the basement.
‘I wasn’t paying attention to my things — I was so worried about the family downstairs,’ Torres told The New York Daily News. ‘It was so fast. My daughter started to scream, ‘Mommy! Mommy! The water’s coming up!’
‘I think the pressure of the water was too strong that they couldn’t open the door [to get out and up the stairs] ‘ Torres explained. ‘The [basement] was just like a pool with stairs.’
Torres said that she could hear her downstairs neighbors calling the landlord who begged them to leave but claimed that the rising waters were too strong for any one to come in or out of the basement apartment.
She told The Times ‘It was impossible.’
Martha Suarez, 53, Ang’s teacher, was overcome by grief when she arrived at the family home Thursday morning for her daily session with baby Ang at his home. She burst into tears as she processed the death of her tiny pupil and his immigrant parents.
‘The baby was so cute,’ she told The New York Daily News at the scene. ‘Just a happy boy, very nice family … They didn’t call me, they didn’t cancel me, so I was coming as usual.’
‘This is too hard for me,’ she said as she stood outside the home blocked off by police tape.
A bus navigates past abandoned cars on a flooded highway in Queens on Thursday, the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida created massive flooding
Severe flooding is seen in Queens on Thursday morning. Of the 13 people killed in New York City, 11 were found dead in basements
Rainfall from Hurricane Ida flooded countless New York City basements
New York had 17 confirmed deaths, four in Westchester County and the remainder in New York City, where nearly all the victims were trapped in illegal basement apartments that are among the last remaining affordable options for low-income residents in the area, the governor’s spokesperson said.
A 2008 study by the Pratt Center for Community Development found that 114,000 New Yorkers lived in illegal basement apartments but researchers say the number is now likely to be much higher.
‘The problem is that because these spaces are illegal, because there are big fines associated with them, because the tenants need the space, the homeowners need the income, no one wants to talk about it,’ said Rebekah Morris, who leads basement legalization work at Pratt, told AFP.
‘So it’s very, very difficult to assess what the actual numbers are but we know anecdotally that it’s very high,’ she added.
The problem is becoming more acute as New York’s population grows but adequate housing fails to keep up.
Over the past decade, the city added 629,000 people, bringing its population to more than 8.8 million, according to US census data released last month.
All but one death in this week’s storm occurred in the borough of Queens, which has a high immigrant population, including many undocumented workers from Central and South America.
Morris said basement units are ‘a key piece of the housing ecosystem’ among immigrant communities, essential workers and older residents, who cannot afford to stay elsewhere.
‘There’s such a big crisis here. We don’t have enough housing. And so people rent where they can’t get a roof over their head, which puts them in danger,’ said Morris.
Experts want action taken against unscrupulous landlords who take advantage of low supply and cut corners to maximize profits.
‘There does have to be some accountability for the property owners who cut up apartments illegally,’ Nicole Gelinas, urban economics expert at the Manhattan Institute think-tank, told AFP.
But activists also say that basement apartments are part of the solution to New York’s housing problems.
It’s not basement units per se that are problematic but illegal ones that don’t meet basic safety requirements such as suitable emergency exit routes, they say.
The Pratt Center is part of a coalition of groups trying to help increase the number of legally-recognized below-ground units under a campaign called BASE, which stands for Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone.
They estimate that there is the potential for the creation of 200,000 safe and affordable basement apartments to boost New York’s housing stock.
Mayor Bill de Blasio did not declare a state of emergency until after seven people’s bodies were found in basements
On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that extreme weather caused by climate change meant New York required a ‘new set of ground rules’ for those living below ground.
‘We need a plan to evacuate folks who live in basements when we have extreme rain and flooding,’ he told MSNBC, announcing he would set up a task force to study the issue.
De Blasio did not declare a state of emergency until after seven people’s bodies were found in basements.
‘Things that we were told were once in a century are now happening regularly. We have to change what we do across the board,’ he said at a press conference on Friday.
‘It’s not just us – we saw the destruction in Louisiana, we see what’s happening with the wildfire.’
‘We all understand this is coming from a climate crisis and they are creating brutal problems – things that come on with a speed and ferocity that we have never seen before,’ the mayor added.
De Blasio said he’d introduce a new ‘rain’ response plan which include sharp warnings to residents that he said were going to be ‘abrupt’.