Rebuilding NYC’s Infrastructure After Sandy

May 08, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Rick Karr reports from the southern tip of the island, where Sandy’s flood-waters met vulnerable infrastructure last October.

New York City thrives because of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, but last fall Superstorm Sandy tested the man-made infrastructure across all five boroughs and some parts of the region are still reeling from the damage.

Even in affluent sections of Lower Manhattan, emergency generators flanked some office buildings months after the storm and small shops remained shuttered from sustained storm damage.

William Solecki, director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities and professor at Hunter College, explained that although scientists can predict storm trajectories, what happens after a storm makes landfall can be an unknown.

“We know relatively little about what happens to that water once it hits the shore,” Solecki told correspondent Rick Karr. “[T]he built environment that we’ve created provides pathways for moving water in and around the built environment, so into tunnels, you know, around highway entrance ramps sort of diverting water in lots of different places.”

In Manhattan, water cascaded into subway tunnels and into power substations, cutting off transportation and electricity for half the island. The historic Verizon Building also sustained flooding. Built in 1926 in the art deco style and living in the shadow of One World Trade Center, the Verizon Building still houses a substantial portion of Lower Manhattan’s telecommunications infrastructure in its basement floors.

On the night of Sandy, representatives from Verizon told us their lobby flooded with water that eventually drained down to the basement cable vaults. Flooding peaked at 5 feet in the vault. Even months after the storm, dried leaves littered the floor and a brown line marked how high the water had been in the vault.

According to Chris Levendos, Verizon’s executive director of national operations, the antiquated copper wiring in the vault sustained the most damage from the water, whereas newer, fiber optic cables fared well.  As a result of the storm, Verizon is speeding up its efforts to update their telecommunications infrastructure for the city.  “We’re moving as much service, if not all services, as quickly as possible to fiber optic based infrastructure,” Levendos said.

Rafael Pi Roman follows up on what happened and what needs to be done in the greater New York area with Wall Street Journal reporter Laura Kusisto. Kusisto discusses lessons the city and its landlords should have learned from Sandy.

Laura Kusisto, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and covering post-storm rebuilding in the region, spoke with MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman about the wider implications of the storm’s damage on the Greater New York region.

“[A]s many people know if you went to Lower Manhattan in the first week after Sandy, it was a different world. It was […] pitch black, there was no electricity, many, many buildings were closed,” Kusisto said. “Maybe what fewer people know is that even in the months after Sandy, about a third of the office space in the financial district was still closed.”

According to Kusisto, three large office buildings are still out of service and many small businesses at ground level have yet to re-open as of early May. Many businesses, Kusisto said, are investing in raising their most critical systems out of basements.  However, compared to other sections of the city, the financial district is doing relatively well.

“One of the areas that I looked at that is struggling more is Breezy Point,” Kusisto said. A fire destroyed more than a hundred homes there the night of the storm.

Kusisto also has been reporting on the Rockaways where developers and designers are competing to rebuild certain sections of the neighborhood. “Even when you went out to the Rockaways before the storm it looked sometimes in some ways like a second world country,” Kusisto said. “… people have realized that there were not jobs there, there were not small businesses, a lot of the housing was sort of in poor repair.”

Federal funding will offset some costs of rebuilding, according to Kusisto, but private landlords and homeowners will also have to pay for many of the adjustments.