Shocking videos show how vulnerable subway is to flooding; why riders say system needs an overhaul

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NEW YORK — The intense rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded New York’s  subway system so badly that most of the 2.5 million people who now rely on it were left with few alternatives for travel on Thursday.  

One woman who entered the 14th Street Nos. 1, 2, and 3 train station on Thursday morning hoping to catch one of the trains summed up the challenge facing most straphangers: few trains, and fewer options.

“I was waiting for the bus, and the bus was completely filled,” she said, after coming down the stairs hoping to catch the train instead.  “So I’ll just keep walking.”

The entire system shut down on Wednesday night, after the city got about seven inches of rain — about two months’ worth — in a matter of hours.

Delays and suspensions remained along the subway system into Thursday night; crews continued to repair and inspect tracks and underground signals damaged in the storm.

Even though most of the rainfall came Wednesday night between 8:30 p.m. and midnight, shutting down the entire 665-mile system, there were still delays on almost every subway line by midday on Thursday.

While some service had returned since the nearly complete shutdown Thursday morning, riders were still being advised to check before they head out and expect delays. Some lines are running in sections.

Videos of how the deluge affected subway stations show platforms, stairs, rail beds, and trains flooded.  

Rick McGuire is the founder of Subway Creatures, a multimedia platform that showcases videos of unusual sights seen on the subway.  He said that a wide variety of people submitted surprising images of precarious situations that the flooding created underground.  

“The videos I’m seeing from the Ida remnants are by far the worst I’ve ever seen,” said McGuire.

He said that images from Superstorm Sandy had been bad as well, but that Ida’s aftermath was even worse. 

The scenes of waterfalls cascading down subway stairs, electrified third rails catching fire from having been deluged, and other shocking, dangerous scenes, McGuire said, should send a message.

“I know that there’s not a lot of money to go into projects like this,” he said, “but if you think about the repercussions of not updating the subway system, it’s going to be even more money.  Changes absolutely need to happen.”

Miriam Abdulaziz had been headed to Newark Liberty Airport when she learned that the storm had canceled her flight.  She said that she’d spent hours trying to get back home to Crown Heights, Brooklyn by subway, to no avail.

“I don’t know how I’m even going to get home,” she said, after walking to the entrance for the Nos. 2 and 3 train at 14th Street, only to learn that the train wasn’t running at all.

On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Kathy Hochul joined acting MTA CEO Janno Lieber and other leaders at a news conference.  They warned that severe weather events will continue to strike the city and its subway, as climate change persists. They said that they have to accept that, and better prepare, going forward.

“We’ve done a lot with coastal resiliency,” Lieber said, adding that his agency was also working with the city’s department of environmental protection. He said that together, they were trying to handle one major issue.  

“How are we going to deal with this  flash flooding problem,” he said, adding that before the forecast had called for Ida to bring torrential flooding to the city, the MTA and DEP had scheduled a strategy session on methods to alleviate flooding.

“[It’s] clearly more urgent than ever,” Lieber said.

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