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The morning after Sandy: Rescue, recovery efforts underway in New York, New Jersey

Last night, Hurricane Sandy – which is now being called Superstorm Sandy – made landfall in New Jersey, near Atlantic City. The worst hours have now passed, but as news broadcasts show, Sandy’s arrival was every bit as destructive as meteorologists and local officials had warned it could be.

Schools, airports, the New York Stock Exchange, public transportation, and many businesses remained shut for a second consecutive day as authorities tried to assess the damage and get help to stranded individuals. President Obama signed disaster declarations for New York and New Jersey last night, freeing up additional federal resources for storm response and recovery efforts.

The death toll from the storm currently stands at thirty-eight.

Seventeen people were killed in New York, five in Pennsylvania, four in New Jersey, three in Connecticut, and two each in Maryland and Virginia. One person was killed in West Virginia and one in North Carolina.

An overnight fire in New York’s Breezy Point neighborhood destroyed at least eighty homes, including a home belonging to Republican Congressman Bob Turner.

In Chelsea, the facade of a building crumbled to the street after having been subjected to the elements of the storm. In Midtown, the storm collapsed a crane boom being used to construct a new highrise building, One57.

A fallen tree in New York's Astoria neighborhood

A fallen tree in New York’s Astoria neighborhood (Photo: Exploring the Right Brain, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority published a lengthy advisory on its website warning it would take days for the city’s mass transit network to resume normal operations. Service will resume in stages, officials predicted.

The MTA’s statement:

Thousands of MTA workers have begun to fan out through the system to inspect and begin repair of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, a massively destructive storm of historic proportions.  In the period of a few hours, seven East River subway tubes, two Long Island Rail Road tubes linking Manhattan with Queens and two vehicular tunnels were inundated by a wall of water, along with one subway bridge, three subway yards and six bus depots. However, there are some early signs of recovery.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that five of the MTA’s seven bridges, the Robert F. Kennedy, Verrazano-Narrows, Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck and Henry Hudson bridges, were fully inspected and reopened at noon. The two Rockaway bridges, Cross Bay Veterans Memorial and Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges bridges, and the Hugh L. Carey and Queens Midtown Tunnel remain closed.

The governor also announced partial restoration of bus service at 5 p.m. Buses will operate on a fare-free basis and on a Sunday schedule. A full schedule is expected for Wednesday. Rides will continue to be fare-free. “Our transportation system has never faced a disaster as devastating Hurricane Sandy, which has caused an unparalleled level of damage,” said MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota after inspecting many of the hardest-hit areas.  “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.”

The powerful storm affected service throughout the MTA service region.  Metro-North Railroad lost electric power from 59th Street to Croton-Harmon on the Hudson Line and east to New Haven on the New Haven Line. The Long Island Rail Road sustained damage in its West Side Yards and suffered flooding in two East River tunnels.

Bridges and Tunnels also suffered major damage with flooding of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel from end to end and the Queens Midtown Tunnel also taking on water.  Six bus depots situated in low-lying areas were also disabled by high water.  The MTA and its operating agencies have begun the lengthy process of assessment and repair.  Damage has been extremely heavy in downtown Manhattan where several subway lines converge.  The South Ferry station is filled track to ceiling with water as are several of the subway tunnels.

It is too early to say how long it will take to restore the system to full service. There is a separate process that must be followed for each division.  Bridges and Tunnels’ two Rockaway bridges did not suffer any major damage but remain closed due to flooding in the surrounding adjacent roadways and neighborhoods. Water remains in both the Queens Midtown and Hugh L. Carey tunnels. Once water levels subside, the water must be pumped out and the tunnels thoroughly inspected by engineers. Subway trains and buses must be inspected along with 5,600 buses, 6,200 subway cars, 600 miles of tracks and 468 subway stations.  Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road must take a close look at hundreds of miles of tracks, switches, railroad crossing and cars and locomotives.

At first light today, Metro-North dispatched diesel-power patrol trains on all three lines, Hudson, Harlem and New Haven, to inspect tracks and remove fallen trees along the way.  In Ossining, they encountered a 40-foot boat blocking the tracks. Carrying track workers with chain saws, signal maintainers and power department personnel, the trains made slow progress as they encountered numerous trees snapped and lying across the tracks and hung up in the overhead catenary wires that power the New Haven Line.

In some cases, the wires were torn town.  Elsewhere, heavy trees have crushed the third rails that power Hudson and Harlem line trains.  However, on a positive note, shops and yards in New Haven and Stamford appear to have been unscathed by the storm.

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 to safeguard our equipment and prepare facilities to the best of our ability.

Chairman Lhota added, “Our employees have shown remarkable dedication over the past few days, and I thank them on behalf of every New Yorker. Our employees have never faced a challenge like the one that confronts us now. All of us at the MTA are committed to restoring the system as quickly as we can to help bring New York back to normal.”

All three of New York’s major airports remained closed on Tuesday, though Port Authority officials suggested JFK might reopen on Wednesday. Both JFK and LaGuardia saw flooding last night as Sandy came ashore. JetBlue’s corporate blog has posted pictures of some of the floodwaters at LaGuardia.

Broadway shows and performances were cancelled for Tuesday, but many theaters and concert halls announced that they would be open for business tomorrow.


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