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MTA subway, power outages biggest challenges in NYC after Sandy, Bloomberg says

Employees from MTA New York City Transit worked

Employees from MTA New York City Transit worked to restore the South Ferry subway station after it was flooded by seawater during superstorm Sandy. (Oct. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: MTA / Patrick Cashin

New York City mopped up and pumped out as it began restarting mass transit and restoring power to 656,000 homes and businesses knocked out by Sandy, the superstorm that killed at least 18 people in the five boroughs.

New York Stock Exchange trading will resume at the normal starting time today after a two-day hiatus. The city's bus system will operate on a Saturday schedule, free of charge, and yellow taxis will be allowed to pick up multiple passengers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news briefing Tuesday.

"We're on the road to recovery," Bloomberg said. "We'll try to take this and use it as a lesson." The storm that lashed the region with hurricane-force winds developed over the Atlantic Ocean, slamming into the city Oct. 29, flooding parts of the biggest U.S. subway system and igniting a conflagration that destroyed 111 homes. Sandy produced the worst disaster in the history of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, according to its chairman, Joseph Lhota.

"Restoring power and mass transit remain the two biggest challenges in the days ahead," Bloomberg told reporters.


About 288,000 customers in Manhattan, 118,000 in Staten Island, 45,000 in the Bronx and 205,000 in Brooklyn and Queens lost service, said Chris Olert, a spokesman for Consolidated Edison Co., the city's electricity provider. He said the company aims to restore power to Manhattan residents within four days and 10 days for customers in the outer boroughs.

The company cut power intentionally in some areas to prevent damage to equipment. During the storm, a transformer exploded at a plant on 14th Street, spreading blackouts in lower Manhattan.

Under an order he signed Wednesday, Bloomberg said yellow cabs could pick up multiple passengers at once while charging normal fares. It would also let limousines and livery cabs pick up people that hail them from curbsides.

Public schools will remain closed for a third day today, the mayor said. He said the ING New York City Marathon, the world's biggest, is still on for Nov. 4.

Bloomberg said he spoke Tuesday with President Barack Obama and discouraged him from visiting the city.


"We'd love to have him, but we've got lots of things to do," Bloomberg said. "I know he had planned a trip to New Jersey, and I said 'That's fine. It represents the whole region.' " Obama, a Democrat running for re-election on Nov. 6, plans to join New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, today to survey storm damage, talk to residents and thank first responders, according to a statement from the White House yesterday.

At least six deaths in the state were tied to Sandy's floods and winds.

On Manhattan's East Side, just above 40th Street and the blacked out areas to the south, residents from the affected neighborhoods filled bars, restaurants and shops. Some refugees charged mobile telephones where they could. Others carried bags of clothes and supplies, heading for temporary quarters.

On Second Avenue, between East 33rd and 34th streets, Zachary Ducharme, 28, of Murray Hill, and Jason Brinberg, 29, exchanged phone recharges, using Ducharme's car, for gas money.


"We lost power at about 9 p.m. as everybody else did," Ducharme said. "I was driving around in the morning, trying to get a charge out of my car. I realized I'm probably not the only person out here who has a cellphone that needs a charge. We got a power strip and decided to hook it up." The air began to clear of the fetid smells left by receding floodwaters as workers cleared debris from bridges and street cleaners scrubbed muck from roads and sidewalks yesterday. Crews set about trying to re-light the city of 8 million, the most populous in the U.S. Zabar's, the Upper West Side emporium that sells smoked fish and kitchen gadgets, reopened for business.

"The construction of this city did not anticipate these types of conditions," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Queens native, said yesterday on a radio show. "As soon as you breach the sides of Manhattan, you now have a whole infrastructure under the city -- that fills the subway system, the foundations of buildings." Sandy became the Atlantic's largest tropical storm system ever measured, and rivaled epic blizzards of 1888 and 1947 in its impact on city life. The wind-driven surge of seawater produced a bigger disaster than anticipated by the 108-year-old MTA's managers in their worst-case scenario, Lhota said.


Subway service may not be restored for four to five days, said the mayor, who is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Seven East River subway tunnels, two Long Island Rail Road tubes linking Manhattan with Queens and two automotive tunnels were inundated, along with one subway bridge, three train yards and six bus depots. Pictures posted on the Internet showed subway platforms surrounded by rivers of trash above the tracks.

In the Queens neighborhood of Breezy Point, at the end of a peninsula that juts into a bay, about 200 firefighters fought a blaze that destroyed at least 111 homes and injured two people, according to the fire department. Video from the scene showed a flames racing from house to house as emergency workers waded through floodwaters.

In Manhattan, skyscrapers rest atop a honeycomb of underground subway, train and electrical tunnels susceptible to flooding, particularly since water levels have risen in the harbor by 4 inches to 6 inches since the 1960s, according to a 2010 state Conservation Department report. It said some subways and other conduits run under rivers and below water tables, and flooding in one section can quickly spread.


Almost 6,400 people were in 76 shelters, Bloomberg said yesterday. Sandy also prevented businesses from reopening even after the worst of the storm had passed.

"We are at the mercy of the MTA -- our staff has to be able to get to work -- and Con Ed," restaurateur Drew Nieporent said by e-mail. His Tribeca Grill flooded and he was waiting, in New Jersey without power, to hear how his other venues, Nobu and Corton, had fared.

PATH rail service between New Jersey and Lower Manhattan may not resume for 10 days, Governor Christie told reporters.

Sandy left cars in Queens piled on top of one another. Films of scum covered building lobby floors and walls. A dozen houses were reduced to cinders in the beachfront Queens neighborhood of the Rockaways.


"I don't think it's any secret, but Sandy hit us very hard," Bloomberg said. "It was a storm of historic intensity." New York faces a "new reality" of weather patterns yielding storms of increasing intensity and frequency, Cuomo said, and requires a rethinking of the city's infrastructure.

"We have to resist the temptation for people to say, 'This is a once-in-a-100-years event; let's just fix it and move forward,'" he said.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who led the city through the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center, praised the response to Sandy.

"It seemed to me everything was done that you would logically do -- closing the schools, closing the subways, urging people to stay out of the key areas that were going to be hit," Giuliani told reporters in Sydney. "I can't think of an emergency response that could've been any better." At the height of the storm, New York University relocated premature babies and cancer patients from its Langone Medical Center, on First Avenue in the Kips Bay area of Manhattan, when backup power systems failed. A hospital in Brooklyn's Coney Island section also was evacuated.

Sandy's gusts caused a construction crane to buckle in midtown Manhattan, leaving its uppermost section dangling from atop a 90-story luxury apartment tower on West 57th Street. In the Chelsea neighborhood, the side of a building peeled off, leaving its rooms exposed to the elements, beds and pictures still arranged just so.

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