Sandy Floods New York City's Subway System

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The New York City subway system remained closed on Tuesday in the wake of Sandy. Millions of gallons of water poured into the subway's tunnels, overwhelming its pump system.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: This is a subway stop in the Upper West Side near Central Park. Water is pouring into the station. The doors are locked. The subways are far from being back in order.

The historic storm is a historic disaster for the New York transportation system. Trains lost power. Rail yards were evacuated. Seven long subway tunnels were flooded.

KAREN DURHAM-AGUILERA: The first thing is to get the water out.

AMOS: That's Karen Durham-Aguilera with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Her federal emergency team arrived today to address the immediate problem.

DURHAM-AGUILERA: We call it un-watering because that's what it is: to, you know, to get the water out of a flooded area.

AMOS: But it's not just floodwater that was so devastating, says Joe Lhota, chairman of New York's transit authority.

JOSEPH LHOTA: Water and electricity never mix properly. But when you add salt to it, the salt leaves a film.

AMOS: Salt - in particular, salt water - and it corrodes, something new in a storm that overpowered the city's pumping system. And salt has to be cleaned, which means workers have to scrub thousands of miles of track to make the system safe again, says Lhota. How long will that take? City officials are estimating four to five days. Police Sergeant Maria Stephens(ph) broke the bad news to travelers at the 60th Street station in New York.

SERGEANT MARIA STEPHENS: Yes, they still think it's going to be fast. Look, we have to make sure nobody's in danger before we let anybody go downstairs.

AMOS: There was some good news today. Most bridges reopened, limited bus service resumed. It was a great day for cab drivers. For the first time, cabbies could pick up multiple fares. Seth Boman(ph) started his shift at 6 a.m.

SETH BOMAN: You have to make money, so we'd have to chip in and help our fellow citizens. That's why I'm here this morning.

AMOS: Most New Yorkers were trying to make the best of the disaster. Joe Smith said he spent the day walking now that the subways are out.

JOE SMITH: It happens. It's New York. Just went on the tracks.

AMOS: Do you think the city can manage this?

SMITH: Sure. It's New York. We just take things with a grain of salt and keep it moving.

AMOS: But moving slowly for at least a couple of days. Deborah Amos, NPR News, New York.

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