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Hmm, deja vu...maybe?

August 8, 2007

New York City Transit System Is Crippled by Flooding

Powerful thunderstorms swept through the New York metropolitan area this morning, tearing up trees and damaging cars and homes, and creating havoc during the morning commute.

Subway stations were flooded, forcing commuters out onto the streets and into taxis and buses, and bringing traffic in many areas to a standstill. The region’s three major airports — La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark — all reported flight cancellations and delays.

No subway line was unaffected by the heavy rains and winds, according to the M.T.A. For the time being, the M.T.A. was advising commuters to stay at home.

Train delays and cancellations were reported on the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North, and train and bus delays and cancellations were reported on New Jersey transit. As the storm knocked down power lines, thousands of homes were without power.

An M.T.A. spokesman said train and bus services were expected to return to normal by about noon.

Meteorologist Brian Ciemnecki of the National Weather Service said an investigator would be sent to the scene to determine if a tornado was responsible, The Associated Press reported.

But Jeff Warner, a meteorologist at Penn State University, said no tornados formed or touched down. He said 1.7 inches of rain fell in Central Park between 6 and 7 a.m., and recent hot, humid weather powered clusters of thunderstorms over Pennsylvania and lower New York State that moved through the metropolitan area.

Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, said: “We’re coming back slowly. We have to dry out we have to clean up and then we have to make sure the circuits and the signals are working before we resume service.”

For the latest service information, please see the Times’ City Room blog.

Alfonso Quiroz, a Consolidated Edison spokesman, said that about 4,000 customers throughout the city were without power — including 1,500 on Staten Island and 1,000 in the Bronx — largely because the storm knocked down power lines.

Amid the commuter havoc, M.T.A.’s website, mta.info, shut down. It was the second time in several weeks that the website was not able to function during a transit crisis. The last one was during a minor blackout on the east side of Manhattan several weeks ago.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was to give a press conference this morning in the Bay Ridge district of Brooklyn, one of the areas hard hit by the storm.

“It looked like tornado activity, a very dense black wall, almost like a heavy velvet fog,” said J. R. Thomason, a fundraiser for the New York Philharmonic, who watched the storm from an attic room in a three-story house in the Kensington district of Brooklyn between 6 and 7 a.m.

“It was over very fast, within 30 seconds,” he said. In a nearby street, a large tree had crushed a van and its branches stretched across the road, stopping traffic. In Brooklyn, the F train was delayed, and as trains started up again later in the morning, subway cars were way overcrowded.

John Han, 50, a financial adviser, said he arrived at the Fort Hamilton stop at around 7:45 a.m., but about an hour later had given up and was going home.

“The cars are running, but real slow,” he said, accompanied by his wife. “It looked like a sardine can. We are going home and taking a shower and going to try again, because we are very sweaty.”

Around Brooklyn, motorists drove in search of an open subway line, so that they could park and take the train. In the Kensington area of Brooklyn, leaves and other debris littered the street, trash cans were knocked over, and awnings on stores were ripped. On the corner of Dahill Road and Church Avenue, trees blocked road lanes, and a 30 foot long pizzeria sign was down on the sidewalk.

Pete Chiaramonte, 41, who was on his way to work at a towing company, said he saw what he thought was the storm touching down at around 5.30 a.m. near the corner of 37th Street and 13th Avenue. “It was a funnel shape,” he said. “It looked kind of black and blue,” adding, “it was way up high and came right down on the roof of” a department store. “Pieces of the roof were all over the place. It was a big bang.”

At 370 East Second St. in Kensington, Carol Perri DeSimone, a sales representative, stood amid the remains of her porch. “I’m heartbroken, my roof landed three doors away,” she said. “I was scared to death.”

In Manhattan, the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 lines on the West Side, and the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines on the East Side shut down for a time. The 42nd Street shuttle was also suspended. The Metro-North Railroad reported at 8:50 a.m. that services on all three of its lines had been restored, although there were significant delays coming in to Grand Central Terminal.

Subways on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were flooded. Brandon Bunting, 31, a police officer on his way to John Jay School of Criminal Justice at 59th and 10th Avenue, said “This is crazy,” as he emerged from the subway station at 86th and Central Park West.

He said he had spent almost an hour on the train as it stopped and started about every 20 minutes, either in a station or between stations, and had finally given up.

Others left the station to try to catch buses or taxis.

As the storms moved across the region from west to east, Long Island was hit by winds and rains. Flooding on the tracks at Bayside, forced the Long Island Rail Road to suspend service on its Port Washington Branch early in the rush hour as torrential downpours swept through Queens and Nassau counties.

The railroad also suspended service to the Hunterspoint Avenue station in western Queens, where passengers from the railroad’s diesel branches make subway connections for the east side of Manhattan.

Trains on the main line through Mineola were delayed by flooding east of the station, the railroad said in a service advisory.

The railroad seemed to have been taken by surprise by the flooding problems. Passengers were allowed to board a Manhattan-bound express train at Port Washington at the height of the storm, and then were told a few minutes after the train’s scheduled 6:45 a.m. departure time that flooding at Bayside was interfering with service and that the crew did not know how long the delay would last.

The train sat in the station for more than an hour with its doors open as lightning struck nearby and the intensity of the rainstorm mounted and ebbed, then finally died away.

Around 7:45 a.m., train crew members began asking passengers whether they thought it would be worthwhile for the train to make its way as far as Great Neck, where they might be able to make connections with Queens-bound M.T.A. buses.

The railroad was trying to arrange for coaches of its own to replace suspended trains, the passengers were told, but had not yet managed to do so. Most of the passengers then gave up and walked off the train, passing under electronic signs on the platform that still, oddly, listed the next few scheduled trains on the line as operating “on time.”

By late morning in the Kensington section of Brooklyn, residents were sweeping the sidewalks and streets, and firemen were putting up yellow tape around the fallen trees.

William Neuman, Patrick J. Lyons, Sewell Chan, Ann Farmer, and Christine Hauser contributed to this article


-- Our thoughts to those who may be affected...we know how you feel!
--
tnn

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