After Sandy, Dewatering New York City

Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, Photo: MTA

In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, efforts continue to pump water from subway tunnels, streets and basements. Some tunnels reopened yesterday, but much work still needs to be done before the estimated 8.7 million people who rely daily on New York transit can get back to normal.

Sandy wiped out seven subway tunnels under the East River, most of them in Lower Manhattan, earlier this week. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) estimated that 86 million gallons of water needed to be removed from the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel and 30 million gallons from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

This isn’t the first time that New York’s suffered flooding. In 2007, a freak spring storm sent so much water into the subway network that there were massive delays for commuters and a few tunnels were completely shut down. And last year, Hurricane Irene prompted a short-term shutdown of the subway system and some flooding occurred.

This time New York was prepared. Pump suppliers began moving equipment toward the East Coast days before the storm hit, and the MTA and the Army Corps of Engineers have been working closely to pump hundreds of millions of gallons of water back into the bay.

Appropriately named water technology company Xylem Inc., based in White Plains, N.Y., deployed more than 200 rental pumps to the region to help with the “dewatering” efforts. Xylem—spun out ITT last year—says it’s fastest portable pumps can suck up 16 thousand gallons of water per minute.

Although the basic technology of the Xylem pumps hasn’t changed in the last few decades, the pumps have gotten bigger with more powerful diesel engines made by Caterpillar Inc. The Xylem pumps are also very adept at chewing up debris that may be in the water.

Thanks to the pumping efforts, New York can expect to be back in action in a matter of days rather than weeks, although some care must be taken to avoid pumping water too quickly from tunnels as this could cause structural damage.

Xylem is no stranger to heroic efforts. Back in July, 2002 the company (then just Godwin Pumps) made headlines when it assisted in the rescue of nine miners trapped in the Quecreek Mine, 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, PA.

The miners spent 77 hours 240 feet underground when a neighboring mine was accidentally breached releasing more than 50 million gallons of water into the shaft where they were working. Godwin deployed its own workers and seven of its Dri-Prime pumps (like those being used in the New York cleanup) to clear out the flooded mine shaft. All nine miners were rescued alive.

Food For Thought:

  • Giant inflatable plug could save New York. Since 2007, the Department of Homeland Security has been busy thinking of ways to minimize the threat of terrorist gas attacks and fires in transit tunnels. The Resilient Tunnel Project comes in the form of giant inflatable balloons that can fill the circular entrance of any tunnel, sealing it off to any element, including water.
  • How the London underground prepared for the Blitz. During the London Blitz, subway tunnels became makeshift air-raid shelters. In order to protect the city and its people, subway tunnels under the River Thames were fitted with remotely controlled flood barriers and trains running under the Thames were halted during air-raids when water-tight doors were closed.

Photo Credit: MTA

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