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Superstorm devastates New York region Oct 2012
Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk
The massive pumping out effort on New York's inundated underground infrastructure could take up to four days, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials were warning Tuesday as the process of assessing the massive damage caused by Hurricane Sandy began.

Flood damage at South Ferry and Whitehall Street stations

The Hugh L Carey (Brooklyn-Battery) traffic tunnel has 43 million gallons of water inside. Officials say pumping out this and other flooded subway stations and underground facilities will be just the start of a programme that will necessitate an engineering inspection of all tunnels affected by the record 13.7ft storm surge accompanying Monday's ferocious storm. Winds of up to 80mph were recorded, and a reported 17 people died in New York City alone.
Additionally MTA says all subway trains (most of which were moved away from high-risk areas in advance) will need inspecting, along with 6,200 subway cars, 600 miles of track and 468 subway stations.
"Our transportation system has never faced a disaster as devastating as Hurricane Sandy, which has caused an unparalleled level of damage," said MTA Chairman Joseph J Lhota on Tuesday (October 30) after inspecting many of the hardest-hit areas.
Underground transportation links in and to New York City

Underground transportation links in and to New York City

In the period of a few hours on Monday (October 29), at the height of the so-called superstorm, seven East River subway tubes including two Long Island Rail Road tubes linking Manhattan with Queens, and four traffic tunnels were inundated by a wall of water.
All the East River and Hudson River traffic tunnels were also affected by flooding including the twin tube 2.6km Holland Tunnel; the three tubes of the 2.5km Lincoln tunnel; the twin tube 2km Queens Midtown tunnel; and the twin tube 2.7km Hugh L Carey tunnel (also known as the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel).
MTA also confirmed three subway yards and six bus depots were submerged with water, and South Ferry Station was reported as one of several "floor-to-ceiling" with water.
Most of the flood waters are thought to be seawater that came as a result of a storm surge, rather than rainwater. This will hamper the recovery effort, and potentially be very damaging for inundated electrical systems. Although most of the power to the subway would have been shut off at 7pm the night before the main storm (Sunday October 28), when the Mayor ordered MTA to completely close the subway, damage to electrical systems is still expected to be extensive.
"The challenge that we face now is one of assessment, inspection, repair, and restoration. This will not be a short process, but it will be one that puts safety as its major focus," said Lhota.
Subway, LIRR and Metro North services paralysed

Subway, LIRR and Metro North services paralysed

In a statement yesterday (Wednesday October 31) Lhota painted a grim picture of the recovery effort that faces MTA and the Port Authority in the coming weeks. "The extent of Hurricane Sandy's devastation became clear today, and its impact on the MTA system is severe. The New York City subway's South Ferry station was flooded up to the ceiling. The Long Island Rail Road confronted 11 electrical substations in a row with no power. Metro-North Railroad crews found a boat across their tracks in Ossining. Each tube of the [Hugh L Cary/Brooklyn-Battery] Tunnel is filled with 43 million gallons of water. These are just a few of the many unprecedented challenges the MTA is facing as it tries to restore service. Our employees have been assessing the damage all day and will continue to work through the night. In many places, they have been able to begin the process of recovery by pumping water and clearing tracks."
Early meteorological predictions of the arrival of Hurricane Sandy on the USA's eastern seaboard gave New York's MTA time to secure assets on the under-construction East Side Access and 2nd Avenue subway tunnels, but by Sunday - with a state of emergency having already been declared (October 28) a decision was taken to lock down all public transport including the New York subway.
Sandbags and temporary barricades were installed in some subway locations in an effort to prevent or minimize water ingress prior to the onset of the hurricane, with MTA claiming that an aqua barrier at Penn Street Station had helped reduce flooding levels at that site.
In the event the oncoming hurricane combined with two wintry systems to become a superstorm that arrived head-on into New York City on Monday (October 29) - at a time that unfortunately coincided with high tide thereby exacerbating the situation.
  • Water floods into Manhattan-Queens LIRR tunnel

    Water floods into Manhattan-Queens LIRR tunnel
    (Photo credit: MTA)

  • New Jersey and New York traffic tunnels

    New Jersey and New York traffic tunnels

"New York's subway system is 108 years old but has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night," said Lhota in a statement on Tuesday morning (October 29).
"Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region. It has brought down trees, ripped out power and inundated tunnels, rail yards and bus depots."
"As of last night, seven subway tunnels under the East River were flooded. Metro-North Railroad lost power lines from 59th Street to Croton-Harmon on the Hudson Line and to New Haven on the New Haven Line. The Long Island Rail Road evacuated its West Side yards and suffered flooding in one [of the four] East River tunnels. The Hugh L Carey Tunnel is flooded from end to end and the Queens Midtown Tunnel also took on water and was closed."
As power outages left a reported 600,000 people stranded in their homes in the dark MTA, the New York and New Jersey Port Authority (which manages the Holland and Lincoln traffic tunnels that connect Manhattan with the New Jersey mainland under the Hudson River), and the city Mayor's office relied on regular Twitter and social networking feeds to keep residents updated and informed of the latest situation.

Water pouring into the iconic Ground Zero site (left), and a parking lot of yellow cabs almost submerged (right)

One eyewitness told the BBC on Tuesday: "Manhattan is like Venice. New York is used to flooding in the hurricane season, but I have seen nothing like this."
  • Aqua barrier helped protect Penn Street Station

    Aqua barrier helped protect Penn Street Station

  • Flood waters cascading into LIRR West Side Yard

    Flood waters cascading into LIRR West Side Yard

By Wednesday (October 31), as the storm petered out, dramatic pictures and video of the flooding showed the extent of the damage. MTA released video footage of flood waters pouring into one of its LIRR tunnels linking Queens and Manhattan across the East River. Another video shows extensive damage at South Ferry and Whitehall Street stations (see video above). The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released film from one of its security cameras at Hoboken Station in New Jersey showing water pouring in through an elevator shaft.
  • 86<sup>th</sup> Street subway station

    86th Street subway station

  • Water floods into Hoboken Station via an elevator shaft

    Water floods into Hoboken Station via an elevator shaft

As a partial bus service resumed, the damaged subway system looks set to be closed for at least the next few days as a full assessment of the damage is made. "By midday tomorrow (Thursday November 1) we will be able to discuss a timetable for service restorations," said MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.
Earlier, prior to the worst of the storm on Monday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at the Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn on Sunday, prepared New Yorkers for the expected impact but said all that could have been done to protect the city's transportation assets had been done.
  • Metro-North railroad train at Croton-Harmon Station

    Metro-North railroad train at Croton-Harmon Station

  • Hugh L Carey tunnel flooded

    Hugh L Carey tunnel inundated

He said: "I think we have done all we can to prepare. Con Ed (New York's primary utility company) and MTA have intelligently moved their equipment out of harm's way. It may mean we don't have the service of that equipment for a longer period of time, but it also means that when the storm is over we can recover quickly."
MTA said in a statement : "This is will be an exhaustive, time-consuming process with one goal: to restore safe and efficient service to 8.5 million daily MTA customers. It must be noted, however, that this process could have taken much longer had we not taken the pre-emptive measure of suspending all service (on Sunday) to safeguard our equipment and prepare facilities to the best of our ability."
By Wednesday (October 31) the Lincoln Tunnel - which was open and closed at various intervals throughout the storm - was open, but the Hugh L Carey and Holland tunnels remained closed to traffic. Bridges have been inspected and are mostly open.
New York Mayor highlights "big problem" of restoring the subway
On Wednesday (October 31), as the full extent of the damage was being assessed, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed to the "enormous" effort that will be required to restore the subway and its heavily flooded tunnels and rail yards.
He told New Yorkers at a press conference: "In addition to the lives we lost, the damage we suffered across the city is clearly extensive - and it will not be repaired overnight. The two biggest challenges facing our city going forward are getting our mass transit system up and running and restoring power."
Mayor Bloomberg surveys damage on Tuesday

Mayor Bloomberg surveys damage on Tuesday

"The work is well under way. East River bridges have already been reopened. The work of getting our mass transit grid and our power grid restored, however, is going to take more time and a lot of patience."
"MTA CEO Joe Lhota has described this as the worst disaster the agency has seen in the 108 years the subways have been running. And Con Ed has described the damage done to its power systems as unprecedented in scope. So clearly - the challenges our city faces in the coming days are enormous."
"The MTA and Con Ed both have strong leaders and extraordinarily dedicated workers. They are working extremely hard - and they will be working around the clock to get their systems fixed."
"Our Administration will move heaven and earth to help them so we can get back up and running as quickly as humanly possible. But the damages that they face really are enormous."
"There is extensive flooding in all under-river subway tunnels. Subway yards where rail trains are typically stored also flooded, and I think that shows the wisdom of Joe Lhota in moving trains out of there to higher ground. I don't think there was any damage done to the rolling stock, but the tunnels all flooded and that's going to be a big problem to get them back going."
References
Tide gates save Midtown tunnel from floods - TunnelTalk, November 2012
New York tunneling projects brace for Irene - TunnelTalk, August 2011
New York tunneling projects weather Irene - TunnelTalk, August 2011
Bangkok examines flood prevention plans - TunnelTalk, December 2011
In search of resilient cities - TunnelTalk, December 2011

MTA YouTube Hurricane Sandy damage videos

           

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