Leng Hongsheng, like many others who arrive in America to seek freedom, was also looking.

In the 1990s, after having survived the turmoil of a war in Europe, the cultural revolution, and the rise of a nation to modernity, he moved to the United States.

His Chinese origins were thought to be that he was an engineer. For a living, he was an entrepreneur in New York who collected junk from Queens. He sold electronics and plastic bottles to be recycled around Chinatown.

He found happiness, took his family with him to the USA, and obtained a green card.

The hope of a miracle ended when Mr Leng, an 82-year-old man, and his wife, and his daughter drowned last month in the turbulent waters that had flooded their tiny basement. They were one of 14 Hurricane Ida victims in New York City.

The family had a funeral on October 3rd, one month after the destruction of the hurricane.

Two-year old boy, and 86 year-old girl were among the victims in New York. They were both Hispanic and Asian immigrants who had been living illegally in basement dwellings.

Extreme weather phenomena can destroy infrastructures, cause destruction in low-income areas, and lead to social inequality. These are the tragedies that have exposed how extreme weather conditions create a climate apartheid.

Without an equitable intervention approach, this problem only gets worse.

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With winds of up to 150mph, Hurricane Ida was a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in Louisiana. It left behind a trail that was full of destruction, causing many deaths and serious damage to homes. The storm would make the Northeast its deadliest hurricane since Sandy 2012.

At sunset the deluge began and continued to midnight. The tropical storm that had just hit a few days ago set new records for rainfall, which were then broken by Ida. In just hours, the September rainfall averages had been reached. It was the beginning of one of America’s worst urban floods.

Wu Ming heard water at around 11pm. He realized that the floodwaters were coming into his flat on his ground floor, which was located in the same block of the Leng family’s house.

He looked out his window and noticed cars floating on the streets. He said, “I’ve never seen anything similar in all my 10 years in New York.” Mr Wu spoke Mandarin to the BBC. Wu Ming doesn’t really know his real name and he asked to remain anonymous.

Within two minutes the water had risen from his knees up to his chest. To his surprise, he couldn’t open his front door against the strong cascade of water. He attempted to flee through it, but it would not move one inch. He then fled the front door and spent the rest of the night on the staircase outside.

He said that he thought “just endure tonight and we’d all still be okay tomorrow,” Mr Wu, an older builder, stated.

There was hope. The flash flood was so severe that a resident had to swim through it and rescue his cat and his dog. Others were provided shelter by residents on higher floors.

He thought of the Leng family and it was something he hadn’t spotted.

Wu replied, “I really wanted to help them,” but “the floods were too overwhelming.” “I couldn’t see their basement door.”

Flooding will be the most devastating environmental catastrophe that the global climate crisis could bring on.

According to the World Bank, 1.5 billion people are at risk of flooding today. This is roughly one fifth of all people in the world. Nearly 90% are in South hemisphere countries with low and middle incomes. However, floods are more common in richer countries. It is estimated that nearly 160 million people in developed countries are at risk from flooding.

Europe, North America, and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere will be seeing new areas susceptible to flooding in the next decade. The poor will also suffer the consequences.

The US has 41 million residents at high risk for flooding. These people live in densely populated areas and are more likely to build on flood-prone land.

  • What is the reason flash flooding occurs more frequently in cities?

Floodplains are often occupied by low-income and racial minority communities, as they are more likely to live in low-quality housing, where rents are cheaper, said Dr Shannon Van Zandt, Professor of Urban Planning at Texas A&M University.

She said that immigrants, regardless of their status, “often more vulnerable than our citizens of other races and ethnicities,” because they’re more scared to seek help.

The underground home of the Lengs was reached via a narrow, outdoor staircase. It is a simple, red-bricked, nondescript house located on Flushing’s quiet Street. Multiple families shared the three floors with a handful of rooms. There were at least three of these abodes within the block.

There was no sunlight in the basement where Lengs lived. Even in daylight, it was still dark. One skylight allowed some sunlight to enter the flat from the front, but the only exit was the door to the staircase.

After the storm, debris, furniture, and trash were left all over the Lengs’ flat. The air was suffused with musty smells that lingered in the surrounding area.

As in other major US cities, the housing crisis has caused low-income renters to move into apartments similar to those occupied previously by Ida victims and their family.

According to Dr Jacqueline Klopp (codirector of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development), “New York doesn’t provide adequate housing for all residents, even those who are vulnerable.”

Many people depend on informal networks in their local communities for housing. Sometimes, these illegally converted properties are not permitted.

According to estimates, there are approximately 50,000 illegal basement dwellings within New York City.

Many homeowners and tenants avoid reporting problems because they fear being evicted.

The basement was shared by two other Chinese immigrant households. However, they were not present at the flood. One household had returned to China for a visit, the other went out as a deliveryman.

The neighbours claimed that the Lengs had become housebound and were unable to rely on public assistance. Mr Leng had experienced several strokes recently, while his daughter was autistic.

M. Wu asked Shen, the wife of Mr Leng, why she was living in such cramped circumstances just weeks prior to the storm. She told Mr Wu that the family applied for federal housing but had yet to be approved.

Wu said that they didn’t realize their American Dream, and he sighs.

According to city officials, five out of six New Yorkers who lost their lives in floods were unlicensed basement-level homes.

Poorer individuals are at greater risk from extreme weather events due to a lack of high-quality housing. However, there are other factors. People with low incomes tend to live in areas that have less trees and green space.

Concrete surfaces can trap heatwave-related high temperatures, and they also prevent water drainage in flood situations.

The majority of New York Ida Flood fatalities occurred in New York residents who lived near impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots. Numerous people were killed in cars submerged along highways throughout the Northeast.

Dr Klopp said that highways were often completely flood-out because of the potential for water to run off. Dr Klopp stated that highways can become rivers if the water is not absorbed.

The Lama family of Nepalese immigrants lived 7 miles from the Lengs home in the basement in a brick building next to Maspeth, Queens.

Ang Gelu Lama (50) had arrived in the US 14 years earlier from Nepal. Mingma Yangji Sherpa, his wife, had Lopsang, their two-year old son. He had red cheeks, was chubby, and loved playing with monkey toys. According to a friend, the family lived in the basement because it was cheap.

Mrs Sherpa called her last neighbor upstairs to inform her of flood waters in her home.

An unofficial memorial stands now in front the Lamas’ home. It displays a black-and white family photo, Lopsang’s stuffed monkey, and two lollipops.

Nuku Sherpa was Mr Lama’s aunt and broke down as she sang a Buddhist prayer to the Lamas. New Jersey resident Ms Sherpa had just finished cleaning up her own flood-damaged flat when the news of the deaths reached her.

She said, “We are devastated.”

Ida destroyed 1,500 miles of continental US in three days. This included tornadoes and records rainfalls. New York City also experienced its first flash flood emergency.

After the storm hit, Wu went back to his car to retrieve his possessions, drain the floodwaters, and hope that his engine would start again when it was dry. After nearly everything had been submerged in water, Mr Wu couldn’t bear the thought of losing it. He said, “Even my trousers are borrowed.”

Dr Van Zandt stated that it can take as long as two years to fully recover from disasters in low-income or marginalized communities, because they have less resources for rebuilding and relocation.

Already, we can see the extremes of how rich and poor respond to climate catastrophes.

UN 2019 report stated that the Wall of Sandbags protected the Goldman Sachs headquarters in Lower Manhattan from Hurricane Sandy, which left huge swathes New York City without power in 2012. California has hired private firefighters to rescue mansions from wildfires.

According to the report, climate change will push over 120 million people into poverty in 2030. This would reverse 50 years’ worth of progress made on poverty reduction.

Not only will the effects affect fundamental human rights such as water, food, and life, but they also impact democracy and rule of law.

In fiction, the class gap has been brought to our attention. Parasite, a South Korean Oscar winning film depicts a struggling family in Seoul that is forced by a hurricane to escape their luxurious South Korean mansion. Only to find their underground home severely damaged, and much of their personal belongings gone.

The world has reached a new climate apartheid, Dr Klopp stated. This crisis requires a solution that not only addresses environmental but also social inequality issues locally and internationally.

“We must learn to deal with equity as well as climate. Both are essential.”

Flushing has always been open since its beginnings as a Dutch colonial post. The 17th Century Charter enshrined religious freedom and welcomed Quaker refugees fleeing persecution.

The popularity of the rail, which connected it to New York City’s rest in 19th-century New York City, encouraged artists and supported the development of the railway. The area became an important entertainment hub, and was the precursor to Hollywood.

The area has also become a refuge for many immigrants in the recent past. There are many vibrant communities in the 800-acre area, from China, India, South Korea, China, and Taiwan.

Although his time in New York was difficult, Leng loved it. Norman Wong (his former immigration lawyer) said to the BBC that Leng enjoyed the city’s political and artistic freedom.

He was born in Northeast China, in 1939. His poetic name is Hongsheng. This means “an ascending wild goose.”

In his 50s, he immigrated to New York in order to live a New Yorker life. He painted Chinese landscapes and submitted a design for the World Trade Center Memorial Competition. In America, he became politically active by writing commentary in newspapers and signing the “China Democratic Party”.

Fearing persecution in China, Mr Leng sought political asylum in the USA in 2000. Local immigration lawyers still refer to his case.

China has been shocked by the deaths of the Lengs, and many are asking why this patriarch would choose to live such an illiterate life for his family.

One user was asked: “He loved America but did America love his back?”

He was abandoned by the country in the worst possible way. However, his love for the country made it all worthwhile. The Chinese-American community pooled their funds to pay their funeral expenses and send their ashes home to China in the following month. This was, according to a Chinese proverb, a return of fallen leaves to their roots.

Source: BBC.com

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