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11042012-6 Hurricane Sandy hit Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas last week before thundering up the eastern seaboard and barreling ashore on October 29 near Atlantic City, NJ. Along the way, she claimed the record for the second costliest Atlantic hurricane (in terms of damage done and business lost. Hurricane Katrina holds the record.)

If Sandy was determined to get our attention, she succeeded. Her winds spanned 1,000 miles, setting a new record for the largest Atlantic hurricane. The New York Public Schools were closed for four days. The New York Stock Exchange was closed for a rare two consecutive days, the first two-day weather closing since 1885. At least 15,000 flights were cancelled as airports closed and planes were diverted.11042102-3

In her wake, Sandy left thousands of people without power, some for more than a week; forced evacuations along New Jersey’s sandy coast; and obliterated coastal communities. Newspaper headlines shifted from covering the final week of a contentious Presidential election, to covering rescue missions and storm aftermath, examining the affects of global warming on changing weather patterns and the communities ill-designed for the new normal of annual hurricanes, and sharing personal stories of triumph and tragedy.


Hit particularly hard was the Jersey Shore, and New York City, where a storm surge flooded streets, and tunnel and subway lines in Coney Island, Lower Manhattan, and Staten Island, among other areas. With nearly 5.4 million passengers per day, power losses, and damage and flooding to New York City’s subway system brought the city to a standstill. Literally. The subway is the key to transporting New Yorkers to and from work and school. Only 45% of New York City residents own cars, far fewer than in most American cities. Only 30% of New York car owners use them to drive to work. However, even a car did not help people get to work post-Sandy. Gas stations without power cannot pump, and gas shortages drew lines up to sixteen hours long.

11042012-1 This week, residents, civil engineers, politicians, and city leaders across the country, but especially in New Jersey and New York, ponder the very ground beneath their feet: how was their city built? Is it possible to retrofit a city to weather giant storms? How was the New York City subway system designed? How do you assess the damage and repair the damage? This week, examine how subways work, step into the history of the New York City Subway, and review the damage caused by the storm to the New York subway system.

How do subways work? Let HowStuffWorks explain. Begin by considering the purpose of subways: Why were subways first built? What are the benefits of underground travel? How are subway tunnels created—then and now? What obstacles impede the creation of underground tunnels? How do subways operate safely? What system keeps trains from colliding? How are tracks examined? What challenges face subway systems?11042012-4

Work began on New York’s Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) subway in 1900. Four years later, the first riders scrambled aboard. The documentary River of Steel takes you back to the beginning of the New York City Subway. Scroll down and play the River of Steel excerpt to hear readings from newspapers articles that covered opening day of the subway. Read an overview of the IRT and a brief history of the subway. View images of the first subway cars as well as the current fleet. Compare a 1904 IRT map with an MTA 2010 map. The NY Transit museum shares the history of the NY transportation system.

11042012-7 Did you know there are lost subway stations in New York’s subway system? They are not lost, per say. ‘Lost’ stations are ones that are no longer—or never were—used. Travel underground and learn about the city’s lost stations.

The New York Subway system is the longest and one of the most used in the world. It transformed New York from a big city, to a world metropolis. Yul Kwon celebrates the importance and shares some challenges of the current NYC Subway. Join him as he explores transportation in New York City in PBS’ Nation on the Move. Watch chapter 2.

11042012-5 When Hurricane Sandy roared ashore, it dumped gallons of salt water into subway tunnels. Countless tunnels were flooded, including the South Station Ferry (gallery 2) and the tunnels that run beneath the East River. In addition to the problem of how to pump out the tons of water flooding stations, there is also the troubling fact that it was saltwater flooding. Advance to page 4 and watch the video to learn why the kind of water matters. Finally, discover how officials assessed the condition of subway lines and stations.