Water, fire, destruction: NYC after the superstorm

Water, fire, destruction: NYC after the superstorm

Credit: Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: A man clears leaves from a sewer drain in lower Manhattan, October 30, 2012 in New York. The storm has claimed at least 16 lives in the United States, and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. US President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the US East Coast including New York City. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Print
Email
|

by Colleen Long and Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press

azfamily.com

Posted on October 30, 2012 at 7:11 AM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 30 at 7:20 AM

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City awakened Tuesday to a flooded subway system, shuttered financial markets and hundreds of thousands of people without power a day after a wall of seawater and high winds slammed into the city, destroying buildings and flooding tunnels.

Scenes of the damage were everywhere. Between 80 and 100 flooded homes in Queens caught fire and were destroyed. A hospital removed patients on stretchers and 20 babies from neonatal intensive care, some on respirators operating on battery power.

Sidewalks, streets and subways usually bustling with crowds and traffic jams were largely empty. And high above midtown, the broken boom of a crane continued to dangle precariously over a neighborhood.

"Oh, Jesus. Oh, no," said Faye Schwartz, 65, Tuesday morning as she surveyed the damage in her Brooklyn neighborhood, where cars were strewn like leaves, planters were deposited in intersections and green Dumpsters were tossed on their sides.

The storm was once Hurricane Sandy but combined with two wintry systems to become a huge hybrid storm whose center smashed ashore late Monday in New Jersey. New York City was perfectly positioned to absorb the worst of its storm surge - a record 13 feet.

The city's transit system suffered unprecedented damage, from the underground subway tunnels to commuter rails to bus garages, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Tuesday.

"We have no idea how long it's going to take," spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

All 10 subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn were flooded during the storm, as the saltwater surge inundated signals, switches and third rails and covered tracks with sludge, she said.

The entire system wasn't flooded and the authority was already pumping water Tuesday. Workers ultimately will have to walk all the hundreds of miles of track to inspect it, she said, and it wasn't clear how long that would take. Trains had been moved to safety before the storm.

The 108-year-old subway system "has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night," Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement.

Water lapped over the seawall in Battery Park City, flooding rail yards, subway tracks, tunnels and roads. Rescue workers floated bright orange rafts down flooded downtown streets, while police officers rolled slowly down the street with loudspeakers telling people to go home.

"We knew that this was going to be a very dangerous storm, and the storm has met our expectations," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "This is a once-in-a-long-time storm."

In Queens, nearly 200 firefighters tried to contain an enormous blaze that consumed more than 80 homes in the Breezy Point neighborhood. They had to use a boat to make rescues and climbed an awning to reach about 25 trapped people, firefighters told WABC-TV.

Officials weren't immediately able to pin down the cause of the blaze.

Water surged into two major commuter tunnels - the Brooklyn Battery and the Queens Midtown. Water coursed into one of the Long Island Rail Road's East River tunnels, the railroad's West Side yards had to be evacuated. At least 40 LIRR stations had no power Tuesday.

The rains and howling winds left a crane hanging off a luxury high-rise in midtown Manhattan, causing the evacuation of hundreds from a posh hotel and other buildings. Inspectors were climbing 74 flights of stairs to examine the crane hanging from the $1.5 billion building.

After a backup generator failed, New York University's Tisch Hospital began evacuating more than 200 patients to other facilities, including 20 babies from neonatal intensive care, some of them on respirators operating on battery power.

Without power, the hospital had no elevator service, meaning patients had to be carefully carried down staircases and outside into the weather. Gusts of wind blew their blankets as nurses held IVs and other equipment.

About 670,000 homes and businesses were without power late Monday in the city and suburban Westchester County.

In Schwartz's Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, residents who ignored a mandatory evacuation order awoke to debris-strewn streets and a continued blackout. About 2 inches of mucky dirt and leaves covered streets crisscrossed by downed power lines after water sloshed 12 blocks inland.

The doors of the Fairway grocery store were blown out. Several cars left in the parking lot were shifted by flood waters overnight and were left crammed door to door.

Schwartz and her husband rode out the storm on the third floor of the residences above the Fairway and said white-capped flood waters reached at least 3 feet around the building.

"It was scary how fast the water came up," she said.

The facade of a four-story Manhattan building in the Chelsea neighborhood crumbled and collapsed suddenly, leaving the lights, couches, cabinets and desks inside visible from the street. No one was hurt, although some of the falling debris hit a car.

The city shut all three of its airports, its subways, schools, stock exchanges, Broadway theaters and closed several bridges and tunnels Monday as the weather worsened. By evening, the storm surge was threatening Manhattan's southern tip and utilities deliberately darkened part of the borough to avoid storm damage.

It could be several days to a week before all residents who lost power during the storm get their lights back, officials said.

On Tuesday, the New York Stock Exchange was to be closed again - the first time it's been closed for two consecutive days due to weather since 1888, when a blizzard struck the city.

At 4 a.m., few people were out on the streets. Times Square was lit but empty of people. Round-the-clock restaurants and bars that would have been wrapping up after last call were closed. Only a handful of taxis plied the streets - but there was an abundance of emergency and police vehicles.

Uptown, windows of apartments and businesses glowed. But to cross through midtown was to be swallowed by darkness. Only a few emergency or backup lights appeared in buildings.

Late Monday, an explosion at a substation at 14th Street and FDR Drive contributed to the power outages. No one was injured, and ConEd did not know whether the explosion was caused by flooding or by flying debris.

Earlier in the day, 1 million customers lost power in New York City, the northern suburbs and coastal Long Island, where floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water.

At least six people were killed in New York, most by falling trees. The dead included two boys, ages 11 and 13, who were killed when a tree fell on a home in suburban Westchester County.

On coastal Long Island, floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water as beachfronts and fishing villages bore the brunt of the storm. A police car was lost rescuing 14 people from the popular resort Fire Island.

---

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Larry Neumeister in New York, and Frank Eltman on Long Island.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Print
Email
|