Transit in NYC Suffers "Worst Devastation Ever"

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(New York, NY) MTA head Joe Lhota called it the "worst devastation" the city's transit system has seen in its 108 year history. Water up to the ceiling in the South Ferry subway station. Sea water filling the 2/3 subway line under the East River. Sea water just lying in the six other tunnels. Power outages hindering -- or completely blocking -- pumping efforts.

Forty-three million gallons of Hudson River water in each tube of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Amtrak's Northeast corridor service suspended under the Hudson. New Jersey Transit halted as major portions of track were washed away. The World Trade Center PATH station flooded to the platform, and five miles back to New Jersey.

"Frightening," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, after touring the World Trade Center PATH Station, which had been shut down once before, as the World Trade Center towers toppled above it. Cuomo had been at the WTC site Monday night, as Sandy rushed in. Seawater, Cuomo said, was gushing down from every direction. "It was unbelievable how much water was coming in."

It will take "more than three or four days but less than two weeks" to pump out the tunnels, Cuomo said, adding that in a storm the size of Sandy "the vast underground system which is the pride of this city fills up with water and there is no place to go unless you pump it out."

Both Governor Cuomo and MTA chief Joe Lhota cautioned that New Yorkers should become accustomed to idea of rewriting their commutes. It will be a "partial" restoration of service, Lhota said, emphasizing New Yorkers would have to get "creative" about their commutes. The situation was similar after 9-11, when several train lines were halted and then phased in as stations came on line.

The Obama Administration has sent in a team of "unwatering" experts from the Army Corps of engineers -- the same team that worked after Katrina flooded New Orleans. But Colonel Paul Owens, who worked on that effort, said the New York clean up would be more complicated than New Orleans'.

"We saw flooding in Katrina, but flooding in Katrina was different because that was surface water, in this [it] is subsurface water. It's a little easier to get the water out from laying in a free standing pond than it is to get it pumped out from this very urban environment."

Cuomo said the transit system needed to be rebuilt to withstand future storms. "The 100-year storm comes every two years now," Cuomo said, adding that anyone that disputes that is "denying reality."

Standing at the World Trade Center site, Cuomo vowed the system would be rebuilt, though no details have been forthcoming from the federal government on potential aid to the transit system.

"This site is a monument to, among other things, the resilience of new yorkers and our desire and demand that we build back and build back better. The team was saying they will meet this challenge just like they've met all the challenges."

To find the latest on service restorations, keep checking our Transit Tracker