NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

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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