A Mamaroneck Family Weathers COVID-19 and Flood Damage

Photo by Adobe Stock | Nuan

The Maldonado family in Mamaroneck has suffered losses due to flood damage and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are given to prayer in this season of hope, then light a candle for the Maldonados of Mamaroneck.

“Do you believe in God?” Zoila Maldonado asked.

She apologized for her halting English. But those five simple words were understood: Do you believe in God?

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She was standing in the unilluminated remains of her living room. Her husband, Armin, stood by her side. He was wearing rubber work boots caked with grayish-brown mud — residue of the September flood that overwhelmed the banks of the Mamaroneck River, crashed through the Maldonados’ white picket fence, and ruined half their home, which is painted a robin’s egg blue and sits on the flat, vulnerable plain of Howard Avenue.

“Look,” Zoila said, pointing to the staircase leading to the second floor. A stain on the banister recorded a high-water mark of four feet.

The flood ruined two family cars, knocked out their electricity and basement furnace; it destroyed most of their living-room furniture and rendered useless all of their household appliances.

mamaroneck family
Photo by Adobe Stock | Nuan

The Maldonados’ modest, 1,512-square-foot home at 816 Howard Avenue was built in 1956, long before anybody knew or talked about climate change. Floods happened then, too, but not with the frequency or ferocity of recent years. Noting that floods now occur about every four years, a village official in 2016 dubbed Mamaroneck the “New Orleans of Westchester County.” The same could be said for sections of Bronxville, Yonkers, Greenburgh, and Rye, or anywhere in the county where houses sit near picturesque streams that seem harmless until the heavy rains come.

The Maldonados, who are Guatemalan immigrants, raised three sons in the house that they bought 20 years ago for $300,000. On a flood-risk-assessment scale of 1 (virtually no risk) to 10 (extreme), their house rates a 6 (major). Asked how many actual floods they have weathered, Zoila held up three fingers.

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“Three times, three floods, yes,” she said. “The second one was very bad.”

That was in 2007, and it was so bad that one house on Howard Avenue had to be torn down once the water receded. Hundreds of other homes and businesses were damaged. TV cameras and politicians flocked to the disaster site — a gaggle led by U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, who held a press conference across the street from the Maldonado home, whose front yard was a debris field littered with a bathroom sink, toilet, and other junk.

But September’s flood was even worse… and the politicians came out for that one, too.

Phil Reisman
Photo by Stefan Radtke

“I ask my father: ‘Why did other people get well and my son no?’ God said to me: ‘Because I wanted your son for me. He is good, and he is pure.’”

“Now, we’ve lost everything,” Zoila says. All of it tossed and towed away in black plastic garbage bags.

But there is much more to the Maldonados’ story. Their grief goes far beyond mud, waist-high water, and the periodic loss of material possessions. They have also been touched by tragedy, the kind that tested the faith of Job.

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Seven months before the flood, their oldest son, Amilcar, whom they called Mickey, died of COVID-19. He was 33 years old. Armin and Zoila would gladly suffer a thousand floods to have Mickey come back to them.

Standing in the wreckage of her home, Zoila chokes back tears. “Life sometimes is not good with me,” she says. “But that’s life. Look how many people have died.”

Mickey Maldonado was a bilingual clinician at the Peekskill clinic of the Andrus Children’s Center. His friends and coworkers remembered him for his kindness. Leani Spinner, a clinic director, said his generosity went beyond the call of duty, particularly when it came to helping immigrant clients who didn’t have resources or family to fall back on during the pandemic.

“He would get them groceries and leave them on their front porches,” she says. “He didn’t put in for reimbursement. I didn’t know about it until afterward, when his family shared that story.”

Andrus held a “celebration of life gathering” to memorialize Mickey and help employees process his passing. A willow tree was planted in his honor, with a plaque in English and Spanish that called him una luz brilliante en nuestro mundo, which means “a bright light in our world.”

His mother believes there is a God.

“I ask my father: ‘Why did other people get well and my son no?’ God said to me: ‘Because I wanted your son for me. He is good, and he is pure.’”

Zoila said her son’s spirit lives on. “The spirit is never finished,” she says.

Light a candle.

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