Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Flooding Cripples Subway System



By Sewell Chan (NYTimes)

Flooding from torrential overnight rains crippled the New York City subway system this morning. As of noontime, the majority of the subway lines were either disrupted or beset by severe delays. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said its efforts were focused on restoring normal service by the evening rush. Its Web site was frequently unavailable this morning, and its subway service advisories were not updated for about two hours this morning.

One woman was killed on Staten Island got killed after her car got stuck in an underpass. “Another car came along and hit her and she died as a result of her injuries,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced this afternoon.

The thunderstorm caused havoc across the region, forcing thousands of people, like the pedestrians who crowded the Manhattan Bridge in both directions, to walk to work or work from home.

The National Weather Service was investigating whether a tornado had touched down, but Jeff Warner, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, said radar showed “spinning” associated with the storm but no tornado. According to Consolidated Edison, the storms toppled electric wires in parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Meteorologists warned about scorching heat this afternoon, while in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, high winds damaged rooftops and toppling trees.

Alfonso Quiroz, a Consolidated Edison spokesman, said that about 4,000 customers throughout the city were without power — including 1,500 on Staten Island and 1,000 in the Bronx — largely because the storm knocked down power lines.

At 9:55 a.m., transit officials warned that the subway system would not be back until noon at the earliest — and possibly not until the evening rush. “We can pump a lot of water out of the system — we do, on a daily basis — but when we have this much rain in the system at one time, our ability to pump the water out into the sewer system is hampered because that system is overwhelmed,” Paul J. Fleuranges, a New York City Transit spokesman, told NY1 News.
busA knot of commuters squeezed onto a southbound bus outside Time Warner Center at around 8:45 this morning. (Photo: David W. Dunlap/The New York Times)

In the NY1 interview, Mr. Fleuranges acknowledged that the M.T.A. Web site was down much of the morning. “It’s not an excuse,” he said. “We can do better. We should do better.”

The information was changing so quickly, Mr. Fleuranges said, that transit officials struggled to respond.

For much of the morning, the M.T.A.’s news office had only one employee on duty; the others were trying to get in. Charles F. Seaton, a spokesman for the agency, said at 10:35 a.m. that he had just reached the office after trying to do so for three hours.

As of 9:15 a.m., the Long Island Rail Road reported scattered disruptions, and delays of up to a half hour throughout its system, but the Metro-North Railroad reported at 8:50 a.m. that service on all three of its lines had been restored, although significant delays coming in to Grand Central Terminal remain. Delays were also reported on New Jersey Transit and PATH commuter lines.

The region’s three major airports — La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark — reported flight cancellations and delays.

The New York Times is interested in any photographs readers may have taken of the disruptions or damage caused by the heavy rains. Readers are invited to send to e-mail their photos (in JPG or TIFF format) to cityroom.nyt@gmail.com.

Despite the heavy rains overnight, the New York region was not expected to get cooler.

At 4:09 a.m., the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for 1 to 6 p.m. today in southeastern New York and northeastern New Jersey. “The combination of temperatures rising into the lower to mid 90s, along with high humidity, will result in heat-index values around 100 degrees for several hours in the afternoon,” the weather service said. In New York City, the thermometer is expected to reach 94 degrees.

The weather service warned that the thunderstorms moving into the area this morning would produce “gusty winds and locally heavy rainfall, resulting in minor urban and small stream flooding.” There is a slight chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, as well.

At 8:45 a.m., an increasingly impatient crowd of 60 or 70 people stood outside the Time Warner Center, waiting for southbound buses to round their way into Columbus Circle. Knots of would-be passengers formed outside both the front and rear doors, but because the buses were already packed, most people had to give up and settle for the bus after that. Or the bus after that. Or the bus after that.

After a packed-to-the-gills A train pulled into a packed-to-the-gills 34th Street station this morning, the conductor offered some words of advice over the loudspeaker to the grumbling passengers struggling to get on and off the train: “Write a letter to Mayor Bloomberg and tell him to clean the drains!”

Around 9 a.m., the Crossroads Cafe, which sits atop the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop in the F line, in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, was packed with commuters who gave up on waiting for the train and decided to get coffee and wait out the delays.

Matthew A. Brown, 30, an architect, read a novel, ate a croissant and sipped coffee. “I waited for five trains,” he said. “You couldn’t get on. There were little tiffs, like: ‘Hey buddy, there’s no room.’ I decided not to fight it.”

John Han, 50, a financial adviser, decided to walk home from the station with his wife, after they waited from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. as a few packed trains passed by. “It looked like a sardine can,” he said. “We’re going to go home and take a shower and try again later, because we’re very sweaty.”

On this blog, readers have already posted a variety of comments below. SH wondered why there was not more information on the morning news programs about the delays. “I walked to the 1 train to find the station was closed,” SH wrote. “Of course the MTA woman there was completely useless.”

Liz wrote, “I went for a morning jog across the brooklyn bridge for the first time this morning and was wondering the whole time if something was going on or do this many people walk to work every morning!”

El Jones wrote, “I am stunned how unreliable the New York Transit system is. For the price it must be the most poorly run system in the world; For half the system to be knocked out by a night of heavy rain is embarrassing. Even worse is the announcements/notifications that they give their PAYING customers. I entered the subway today, and there was no announcement, sign, employee, or anything else that would warn me that something was wrong, or which track to use. Once on the track, there was also no announcements or warnings.”

Roy Jones wrote: “It was crazy here in Canarsie/East New York. The rain was pretty bad but I think the worst part of it all had to be the lightning. I’m talking about lightning strikes every 10-20 seconds. Somewhere around 6:00 I saw a big flash of lightning, and then poof the power went out. I have to say it was kind of scary but yet impressive. Did anybody hear the 5 big cracks of thunder back-to-back? It was wicked man!!!!!

Eric wrote, “The drive to JFK from Prospect Heights Bklyn was nearly impossible at 5:30 this morning (S Conduit, Belt, everything flooded) — return home was worse! Then to try to get the subway to lower Manhattan was crazy — 2, 3, 4, 5, N, R, B, D, A, C — nothing running. Had a nice breakfast outside Borough Hall waiting for something to resume! The 4 finally made it to Bowling Green.”

As of 8:45 a.m., the Long Island Rail Road reported 25- to 30-minute delays across the rail network, caused by flooding in several locations. The Port Washington branch was suspended in both directions because of flooding in Bayside, Queens. The railroad was trying to arrange for alternate bus service. Service to Hunterspoint Avenue, in Long Island City, Queens, was restored after being suspended earlier this morning because of water conditions.

The L.I.R.R. Main Line was delayed by up to 30 minutes because of “high water conditions” just east of the Mineola station. The Oyster Bay Branch was temporarily suspended after an injured person was found on the tracks near East Williston, N.Y.

Michael Cooper, David W. Dunlap and Ann Farmer contributed reporting.