“Ayúdame por favor” — help me please. Those were some of the last words of Roberto Bravo of Brooklyn, a family member said.
Remnants of Tropical Storm Ida battered the East Coast late Wednesday and early Thursday, causing record rain, powerful flash floods and devastating tornadoes. In New York and New Jersey, at least 42 people were killed.
New Jersey had the highest death toll, at 25. Gov. Phil Murphy said on NBC’s “TODAY” show that six people are missing.
“All of these deaths are related either directly or indirectly to flooding and water, either in cars or homes,” Murphy said. “It’s an absolute tragedy.”
A majority of New York state’s 17 deaths were in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the deaths a “tragic loss.”
“We’re seeing some of the most unbelievable and heartbreaking images from around our city,” he tweeted Thursday. “It’s my sad duty to report that we’ve now lost a total of 13 New Yorkers to last night’s storm.”
A few of the victims have been publicly named by authorities. Others have been identified by their grieving loved ones. Here’s what we know about them.
Darlene Hsu, 48
Darlene Hsu died after floodwater crashed into a lower-level apartment in Queens, New York. She lived in a sixth-floor apartment with her mother but was in another apartment when the storm hit, her ex-husband, Dennis Hsu, said Thursday.
Darlene, 48, tried to escape but was pinned against the door as water rushed inside.
“I’m just all lost for words,” Dennis said during a phone call. “I don’t know what to think.”
Darlene and Dennis married in 2000. He said they remained close after their divorce in 2015 and would talk often. He described his ex-wife, who worked at a management company in Bayside, as a “lovable person” who would help anyone in need.
“I’m just trying to make sense of it,” he said. “Why did Mother Nature take my ex-wife? She was the nicest person. She was the sweetest person. … She always tried to help everyone.”
— Minyvonne Burke
Roberto Bravo, 66
Roberto Bravo had serious health issues in recent years, which was one of the reasons he had moved into the back bedroom of a basement apartment in Brooklyn, where he died this week, his family said.
The building is owned by one of his brothers who lives on Long Island.
“He had three strokes that he survived from,” his nephew, Otto Bravo, said. “That was like two years ago. He went from hospital to hospital.”
Last year, Bravo, 66, contracted Covid-19 and spent a month in the hospital, his nephew said. Bravo’s family said they are devastated that he overcame a disease that has killed more than 649,000 people in the U.S. alone only to die from surging waters that proved too powerful to overcome.
“He survived Covid but he couldn’t survive this,” Otto Bravo said Friday. “It’s horrible. Ironic.”
He said some of his uncle’s last words were: “Ayúdame por favor” — help me please.
Otto said his uncle who owned the building where Roberto lived had observed water rushing through some of the apartments from a surveillance camera.
“He called him to get out of the house,” Otto said, adding that Roberto answered the call but missed a follow-up. The family suspects Roberto may have been resting when he received the initial call and was perhaps disoriented.
“He wake up, I guess, too late,” Otto said.
Two of his uncles went to the building to help Roberto. “When they came back, the police were pulling out the body,” he said.
Roberto Bravo was born and raised in Ecuador. At age 20, he went to Venezuela, said his brother Armando Bravo, 59, who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. He immigrated to the U.S. in his 30s, his brother said.
Roberto Bravo was the fourth youngest of 11 children, eight boys and three girls. He had three sons, his brother and nephew said. They described him as a hard worker and a good father who was very family-oriented.
Armando Bravo said his brother was a political activist of sorts “who supported liberal causes.”
“If there was a demonstration for Black Lives Matter, you always find him there, marching and stuff,” he said.
Before he moved into the basement apartment, where he lived for a couple of years, he had been living in Ecuador, Armando Bravo said.
Roberto Bravo had planned to return to Ecuador after settling a business matter related to his last divorce, his brother said.
“He was just waiting for the money and then he was going back to Ecuador,” Armando Bravo said.
After his bout with Covid, his nephew said he saw him a few times, including this year.
“He was helping one of my aunts to finish her house,” said Otto Bravo, 39, who lives in Bloomfield, New Jersey. “As old as he was, he was always willing to help us. That’s the kind of person he was.”
— Janelle Griffith
Rosa Espinal, 72; Jose Torres, 71; Jose Torres Jr., 38
Rosa Espinal and her husband, Jose Torres, emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States in the late 1980s or early ’90s to “work hard, to look for a better life, raise a family, live the American Dream,” a cousin, Pascual Torres, said Friday.
The couple and their three children — two daughters and a son — initially settled in Newark, New Jersey. Other relatives, including Pascual Torres’ family, also lived in Newark.
“We essentially all lived together, right next door,” he said. “They’re great people.”
Espinal, her husband, and their son, Jose Torres Jr., eventually moved to Oakwood Plaza Apartments in Elizabeth, where they died this week. The family, along with a neighbor, were found on the first floor.
“They were just in their home and then the next thing you know, 8 feet of water,” Pascual Torres said. “How do you survive that?”
He remembered Espinal as dedicated to her family. Her husband worked long hours at a bodega to take care of his children, Pascual Torres said.
“He had a very strong work ethic. I knew him to work 16-, 18-hour days, open to close, just to be able to provide for his family,” he said. “And she would always take care of the kids, take care of us. I spent many of days at their house while my parents worked.”
The couple’s son was like a younger brother, Pascual Torres said.
“He was the youngest of the family,” he said. “He was a great kid. We grew up together, used to play together as kids all the time.”
Pascual Torres, 44, who now lives in Virginia, said the deaths have been hard for the family.
“Everybody’s taking it pretty hard,” he said. “I mean, you could only imagine you wake up in the morning and you hear about a storm that went through, and all of a sudden you find out that you had some family members perish.”
— Minyvonne Burke
Phamatee Ramskriet, 43; Krishah Ramskriet, 22
Phamatee and Krishah Ramskriet, who went by Tara and Nicholas, drowned in their basement apartment in Hollis, Queens, after water burst through a concrete wall. Phamatee was 43. Her son was 22.
Dylan Ramskriet, Phamatee’s other son, who also lived in the apartment, told The New York Times that when water reached their ankles, he, his parents and his brother hurriedly tried to gather some of their belongings.
Dylan Ramskriet said the apartment was pitch-black as the walls caved in and a fast-moving stream of water swept his father, Dameshwar, across the apartment.
“I tried to hold on to my wife, and she was trying to hold on to me,” Dameshwar, who declined to be interviewed Friday, told the Times. “But the water pushed me away and I couldn’t feel her hand anymore.”
Daniel Nigro, commissioner of the New York Fire Department, said the first two fire trucks to respond went into neck-deep water and pulled out one of the occupants, who was later identified by police as Phamatee Ramskriet, and began CPR.
“Unfortunately, that poor woman died at the hospital,” Nigro said at a news conference Thursday.
Krishah Ramskriet was pronounced dead at the scene.
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