When the storm finally died down, In Soon Kim was left with nothing but the dress she was wearing.
She had even lost her shoes as she frantically fought against the floodwaters that were swallowing her basement apartment at great speed, trapping her inside. She had to use all her force to wrench the door open a few inches, just enough for her to wriggle out.
“I almost died,” she said, breaking into tears as she recalled the night earlier this month when remnants of Hurricane Ida swept into New York, unleashing torrential downpours that killed 16 people, 13 of whom lived in New York City. Many of those who died lived in basement apartments, one of the city’s few affordable housing options for undocumented workers.
Ms. Kim, 54, who works as a nail technician and lives in College Point, Queens, has survived, mostly thanks to an upstairs neighbor who lent her clothes and a place to stay temporarily. Ms. Kim had been excluded from receiving federal relief because she is undocumented and was panicking because she didn’t have a lot of savings, she said.
But that changed on Monday when Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced $27 million in aid for undocumented survivors of the floods like Ms. Kim, who are not eligible to receive storm recovery relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’re at war with Mother Nature,” Ms. Hochul said at a news conference at the Queens Museum overlooking Flushing Meadows Corona Park, located in one of the most diverse communities in the city and in a borough that is home to many immigrants. “It’s a smallest token of what we can offer, but knowing that we had a responsibility to these people, we could not walk away.”
New York State will contribute $20 million to the special relief fund while New York City will provide $7 million, Ms. Hochul said.
Fewer than 1,200 households are expected to access that aid, a figure Ms. Hochul said was based on the number of homes that had been affected by the storm. Applicants are eligible to receive up to $72,000 for housing and other needs. They have until Nov. 26 to apply for the funds via a number of local nonprofit organizations that assist immigrants, including MinKwon, Make the Road New York, Catholic Charities Community Services and the Chinese-American Planning Council.
But representatives from most of the organizations said that details about the relief package remain unclear. They also said that the number of eligible applicants is likely to be higher than 1,200, given that there are an estimated 500,000 undocumented workers in New York City.
Still, Theo Oshiro, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, praised the initiative.
“These communities went through the worst of the pandemic, and now they’ve been hit by a storm. What we’re seeing is some recognition of the plight of these New Yorkers, but there is so much to do,” Mr. Oshiro said.
Gov. Hochul also said that given many lost their paperwork in the flooding, “not a lot” of documentation was required to apply for relief — just a letter from a landlord or a utility bill showing that applicants lived in a property hit by the storm. “It’s not going to be that hard, but the difference will be you do not have to prove citizenship to get this help.”
The severity of the storm caught New Yorkers by surprise because of the speed and size of the downpour. The death toll included many undocumented workers who lived in cramped basements that lack basic safety features like having more than one exit.
Ms. Kim and several survivors said they want to use some of the relief money to move out of their basement apartments.
Her apartment only had one way out — the door that she pried open.
She has lived in the apartment for 13 years and said it had flooded twice already, although not as badly as this time around.
Felipe Idrovo, 53, who arrived in the United States two decades ago from Ecuador, lives in a basement that flooded in East Elmhurst, Queens, when the storm hit. He too is looking to move out, but there are few options in the city where low-income housing is at a premium.
Mr. Idrovo moved into his basement apartment last year after losing his job when he got sick with the coronavirus, he said. The water has destroyed nearly everything, he said, including photos of his two grown sons who attend college in Ecuador, medical documents related to his brother’s death and even documents that prove that he pays taxes.
Three weeks after the storm receded, he is still trying to salvage some documents by drying them out as much as possible. He has taken on a new job as a day laborer, but said he doesn’t make enough money to move out just yet because work is precarious. He has moved to another room in the same basement, one that is closer to the single exit. His old room, he said, has mold on its walls from the water damage.
Still, Mr. Idrovo, who is undocumented, is hopeful about being eligible for the new relief fund. For one thing, he said, he can continue to send some money back to his family.
“I know that with this help I have a little bit more peace, enough peace to keep going on,” he said.