The Hidden Enemy Sandy Left Behind

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Almost 11 months after Sandy, the corrosive effects of saltwater remain a very real danger. And that's had an effect on all kinds of local infrastructure, from the boardwalks in seaside towns in New Jersey to the subway lines in Manhattan.

In New Jersey, the bay and ocean washed into thousands of homes and businesses. Salt water was the smoking gun linked to the fierce fire that destroyed more than 50 boardwalk businesses on the Jersey Shore last week. The fire started underneath Kohr's Frozen Custard stand, which rented the space from Biscayne Candies. Fire investigators said that the building's wiring, which dated back to the 1970s, was likely corroded by Sandy seawater.

"This wire could have failed on its own, but certainly this wire came in contact with water and sand as a result of Sandy," said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.

Salt water flooded out thousands of properties beyond the boardwalks as well, which could become dangerous for unsuspecting property owners.

"Wiring in this area was flooded with salt water," said Rocco Compitello, an electrical inspector licensed by New Jersey. He said that salt water breaks down copper and aluminum wiring, causing it to corrode, and weakening electrical connections.

"People get that false sense of security that so long as everything is working, everything is fine, but in reality the connections are starting to corrode," Compitello said.

Electrical experts like Compitello have been urging property owners to replace any electrical wiring that was submerged in salt water. In addition, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs sent residents a letter that offered guidance in replacing electrical components damaged by the storm. It said all equipment and outlets that had been submerged during Sandy "must be replaced." 

Salt water flooding during Sandy has also affected the MTA subway trains and tubes in New York City, leading to major closures this year. The MTA needed to close two underground subway tunnels for long-term repairs: the R train beneath the East River is closed for 14 months and the G train tube between Brooklyn and Queens is closed for 12 weekends.

"The issue of latent failures will affect anything that saw a large amount of salt water," said MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Predergast. "We have seen an increased frequency of failures, it has effected an increase in delays, and we're spending time and money to be able to make those repairs and keep that service operating." 

Prendergast added that the MTA might eventually have to shut down the tubes carrying the 2, 3, A and C lines between Brooklyn and Manhattan for repairs. But those closures, he said, are expected to be overnight closures only. 


To hear WNYC host Amy Eddings' interview with Janet Babin, click the audio link above.