Standing at the mouth of the Hugh L. Carey/Brooklyn Batter Tunnel in Lower Manhattan earlier this afternoon, following a tour of the flooding within, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave yet another one of his rousing speeches on the trials of New York under pressures, particularly how it is that the physical infrastructure that makes this city tick can also bring it to its knees if a disaster occurs.
But before we get to that, what exactly is the status of the tunnel, one of the city’s busiest, with a daily traffic of some 50,000 vehicles? MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota began by relating of the story he told earlier this week, of meeting the governor at the mouth of the tunnel by happenstance on Monday night, where they took in the hellish scene.
“Where you are all standing right now, there were raging, white rapids,” Mr. Lhota said. “The Hudson River crested and came roaring down into our tunnels, both tubes of our tunnels are filled, they’re fulled with 43 m galls of water, each one is filled with 43 m gall of water. It stretches 6,000 feet, over a mile, about a mile and a quarter of nothing but water.”
“I will tell you what I saw was so extraordinary, I actually thought it was capable of providing hydro power, it was coming in with such great speed and with a roaring noise that you just couldn’t possibly imagine. Also try to imagine, it was pitch black, the power was out downtown, and this was all we saw.”
It was this scene that had the governor ruminating on the resilience, but also the vulnerability, of the city.
“They say sometimes that when it comes to personalities, your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness,” the Governor said. “In some ways, that is true for this city, also. What made this city and made this state was our proximity to the water, it was our port, it was the Hudson River, the Erie Canal, that’s what made us. What made Manhattan was the engineering marvel of being able to build not just above ground but below ground. How do you get so much done on this slim island? Because we build high and we build deep. That is our great strength. That becomes a great liability in the face of a storm, and that is what we have seen, in a way we haven’t seen in decades, if ever.”
The governor then shared his recollections of Monday night’s flooding. “The story that Joe tells about Monday night still gives me chills. We were standing up on that over pass, the water coming through here was three, four, five feet deep. The Huson River came right across the West Side Highway, the East River was coming down from that side, and the only question was, When does it end? Has the river crested? Because at one point you just feared that you would have just submerged all of the Battery.”
If only this was our only problem, but at least the worst is over. “As massive as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is, you have to times that by six, seven, eight, nine, ten times. You have the Holland Tunnel, you have the Midtown Tunnel, you have subway tunnels that are still flooded, you have Con Ed vaults that are still flooded. This is an engineering feet that we have never undertaken before. So we do need the help, but the good news is the help is coming.”