Hurricane Sandy and the days to come

Yes. I rode out Hurricane Sandy.

First, let me get personal. I’m in one of the highest places (geographically speaking) in Brooklyn. I’m okay, my lights never went off, there was no flooding in my building. I woke up to text messages from my day job and was assured that no, I wasn’t expected to come in. Lunch and dinner consisted of chili and a reasonable Cabernet Sauvignon. I have not ventured out of doors yet. My windows all face East, and the wind seemed to be North/South. There were times yesterday afternoon when we thought the wind was going to pull our air-conditioners out of the window-frame. And it was LOUD. It was like having a freight train go past a few feet away.

And this AM, I’m listening to Pat Kiernan of NY1 give the stats. The storm surge was 13.8 feet–the previous record was 10 feet. Some 50 homes were destroyed by fire at Breezy Point, burned to the waterline because firefighters couldn’t get to them. The East River car tunnels both saw flooding, and are closed. There’s massive uncounted damage in the subway system tunnels, which were flooded when water topped over the Wall Street area. That’s the 1,2,3,4, and 5 trains, the A and its friends, the R train (Broadway local), and others. Since the tunnels were flooded with salt water, the damage will be especially expensive to clear–some of the subways may be out of commission for weeks or months. At least a million people region-wide are without power.

In September I wrote about the events at the Spectra pipeline protests. In trying to put Mayor Bloomberg’s motives for pushing natural gas in the city in a sympathetic light, I noted that Bloomberg had been elected chairman of C40, a group of civic leaders of the 40 largest cities in the world who’ve come together to work on solving the problem of global warming. Unlike most American politicos, Bloomberg is up front about his environmental concerns. And he should be–of the 40 cities, New York was the second most vulnerable to changes in sea water levels. We have a cool 520 miles of coastline and property worth some $2.3 Trillion. And Bloomberg has tried (with some success) to push plan B thinking. He wanted to pay for upgrading the subway and transit system by putting tolls on all the bridges across the East River a big part of his PlaNYC 2030, a plan that was scuttled by the New York Senate. At least part of his much-maligned enthusiasm about bicycle commuting has to do with getting commuters out of mass transit, which would ease pressure on many of the over-capacity subway lines.

And for Bloomberg, this is all the worst predictions about super-storms coming true. In light of concerns about rising sea levels and NYC’s vulnerability, the city had looked into barrier systems common in the Netherlands and England and coming into vogue in Russia and Italy. But the barrier system’s price was $10 B, an amount that no one could see the city justifying before October 29.

And we’re close to worst-case scenario–the total infrastructure investment in the Subway system is some $11 B absent the value of the trains, and big sections are going to have to be replaced. That’s a process that might take MONTHS. When NY State was trying to predict the costs of a century storm like Sandy, they estimated that the economic losses from a once-in-100-years storm, including workers unable to get to work, could range from $58 billion to $84 billion, depending on the extent of sea-level rise and the size of the storm.

So NOW what? It’s one thing if this is a century storm, but Irene wasn’t that long ago. Repairs will commence, pundits will opine, but NYC is still tremendously vulnerable to anything that raises sea levels and changes the dynamics of hurricanes.


Per a news report on Huffington Post (which is mostly down right now), SEVEN Subway tunnels under the East River are flooded. MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota says this is the worst disaster the MTA has faced in its 108 year history.

UPDATE 10/31:

* It’s now a total of 100 homes burned at Breezy Point.

* No ‘official’ predictions on the subways’ return yet. Expect really bad news.

* Folks expecting the subways returning in a few days, look at this.

* No electricity in South Manhattan.


One comment

  1. […] about the recovery of the New York subway system is getting a bit annoying. You might recall that I reported a few days ago that state and federal authorities had estimated a worst-case scenario would leave the subways and […]

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