It could take the New York City subway system three full weeks to come back online, experts have warned.

High water is preventing inspectors from quickly assessing damage, meaning the nation’s largest city could face an extended shutdown of the system that 5million people count on each day.

Joseph Lhota, chairman of the state agency that runs the subway, said service might have to resume piecemeal, and experts said the cost of repairs could be staggering.

Historic shut down: As flood waters inundated many stations including 86th Street, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that subway service would be shut down until Saturday or Sunday, only the second time it has ever closed

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that the subway would be shut down until Saturday or Sunday — a total closure of six to seven days.

 But a group of Columbia University researchers analysing the effects of a smaller hurricane or tropical storm suggest that it would shut down the subways for 21 days – and cost the economy tens of billions of dollars.

The report by Klaus Jacob, a geophysicist who specializes in disaster management, examined the effects on the city’s transportation infrastructure of a 100-year storm.

Dr Jacob and his researchers used as a model a storm less powerful than a superstorm such as Sandy — one that has only a one per cent chance of happening in any given year.

Then report estimated that a hurricane hitting nearby could result in a billion gallons of water flooding each of the subway’s 14 tunnels that run under the East River.

There has always been flooding in the tunnels, which collect storm water constantly, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Sandy was the worst disaster in the subway’s 108-year history.

Trains stopped running at 7pm on Sunday as the MTA preemptively closed down service for only the second time in its history.

The closure was an effort to secure the subway system against the impending storm, but massive damage came anyway.

Limited bus service began again yesterday and some bridges reopened at midday, but transit officials said they could not predict when the subway would run again.

One tunnel — the South Ferry station at Manhattan’s southern end — was flooded entirely from ‘track to the ceiling’.

More than 468 stations and 600 miles of track now have to be carefully examined.

Each tunnel was expected to take at least five days to pump dry after the tidal surge of almost 14 feet.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island District deployed a team of engineers yesterday to support New York colleagues in the ‘unwatering’.

The team were specially trained in New Orleans, where they dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and are preparing their large stock of pumps.

Water in the two vehicle tunnels receded slightly as the tide fell Tuesday morning, but the massive pumps that will eventually empty the tubes were unable to immediately make headway because the places where they normally send water – the river and sewer system – remained so high, the outflow pipes in the pumping system were still submerged.

‘Our pumps are working. It’s just that the water has no place to go,’ MTA spokeswoman Judy Glave said. ‘We pump it out and it just comes back in.’

Once the water is removed, engineers must then examine the equipment to see how much corrosion damage was wrought by the salt water that soaked the switches, signals, electrical wires and stations.

Each has to be out of the water before it is touched and and any damage will have to be fixed before the system can be restored.

Pump flood waters: Each tunnel is expected to take at leave five days to pump dry, keeping stations closed until Saturday or Sunday

‘In the tunnels under the East River, all the signal-and-control systems are underwater, and it is salt water,’ Dr Jacob told theWall Street Journal. ‘It’s not just that it doesn’t work right now. It all has to be cleaned, dried, reassembled and tested. And we are not sure what the long-term corrosion effect might be.

‘I think we have come to the end of studies. What we need now is action.’

Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed. adding: ‘We have to start thinking about how we redesign the system so this doesn’t happen again.

‘I don’t think anyone can sit back anymore and say, “I’m shocked at this weather pattern.” There is no weather pattern that can shock me anymore.’

School was canceled for a third straight day Wednesday in the city, where many students rely on buses and subways to reach classrooms.

Mayor Bloomberg has said that Sunday’s marathon will still take place, but even if runners are able to fly in, it will be difficult to get everyone to the starting line without a subway.

Dr Jacob’s 21-day estimate covers the time it is predicted to take city workers to bring the subway system back to 90 per cent function.


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