NEW YORK—The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel is filled with 43 million gallons of water due to the massive storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy. The tunnel is to open “soon,” but MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota was unable to give a specific timetable on Thursday.
“I bet you have never seen a tunnel look like that,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters during a tour of the tunnel officially known as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. Prior to the storm it served as a daily artery for 50,000 vehicles traveling between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Two press vans were driven into the tunnel about a quarter of a mile before stopping, having reached the water. The thick smell of gasoline soaked the air, and the ground was slick with oil and sludge.
Gov. Cuomo, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer huddled with Lhota in the tunnel for a quick briefing.
Back at street level, Lhota recalled the fateful Monday evening when Hurricane Sandy hit New York. He said he personally witnessed the catastrophe take place in pitch-black darkness. “I felt that the flood was capable of providing hydro power with such speed-roaring power,” he said.
The city is expecting help soon from the Army Corps of Engineers who will bring super pumpers to efficiently remove the water, Lhota said.
When asked where the city will put the millions of gallons of contaminated water from the tunnel, Sen. Schumer said, “Back in the NY Bay, where it belongs.”
Once the water is removed, the tunnel will be cleaned and washed out and the structural integrity checked. “The fact that there is water on the inside, I am not worried about that, but the systems working, the lighting, and various other security-related matters that we have there, I am worried about,” Lhota said.
Recovery Funding and Plans
Sen. Schumer asked for 100 percent reimbursement from the disaster relief agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which typically pays for 75 percent of recovery costs, while the state and local governments pay 25 percent.
Sen. Schumer announced that, as of this morning, FEMA will reimburse New York City and New York state 100 percent for the cost incurred for emergency transportation. FEMA will also cover the costs to restore power to the region between Oct. 30 through Nov. 9.
“This is certainly not everything we need, but it is certainly a very good first step, and it is an indication that the president and Secretary Napolitano know how serious this is. That is a very good sign for us,” Schumer said.
FEMA will also be bringing 1 million meals to New York.
President Obama’s declaration of a number of counties in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as disaster areas gives residents an opportunity to apply for government assistance such as temporary housing and other relief. More than 36,000 people have signed up for these programs. More information can be found at fema.gov and disasterassistance.gov.
There are currently thousands of teams touring affected areas to spread the word about the programs by going door to door in case people cannot access the Internet. “We want to make it as easy as possible, and make sure people know what assistance they are qualified for,” Napolitano said.
Hundreds of inspectors are also doing damage assessment in affected areas to speed up the rebuilding process. Sixty professional crews with equipment are currently on the way to New York to help get the power grid back up.
The Coast Guard has been busy trying to reopen the port, putting the buoys in place, and checking the harbor channels. “The harbor is open for ships to pass through. That will mean our gasoline crisis should end shortly,” Sen. Schumer said.
Gasoline use has increased since Sandy struck, a culmination of an increased use of cars in the absence of mass transit, and more people using gasoline-powered generators. With the ports shut for safety during the storm, gasoline has not been delivered, leaving many to wait in long lines, or go without.
“This is probably the greatest natural disaster ever to hit New York, and one of the top five greatest to hit the country,” Schumer said. “But the best thing we have got going for us in disasters is New Yorkers. We recovered after 9/11, you see the Freedom Tower rising. We will recover from this too,” he said.
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