NEW YORK (Reuters) - Flooding in New York’s subway lines ground the city’s transport system to a halt on Wednesday, angering New Yorkers who are facing rail and utility fee hikes to support an aging infrastructure.
During the morning rush hour every subway line into Manhattan was affected by flooding after a fierce predawn storm sent roofs flying, toppled trees, submerged cars and inundated subway stations. Most subway services were still facing delays or cancellations as New Yorkers left the office to go home.
“Riders are stunned that the (subway) system is so vulnerable to rain,” said Gene Russianoff, a spokesman for The Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group. “It’s not like we live in the Gobi Desert.”
The weather caused one death when a woman’s car, trapped by flooding, was struck by another vehicle, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference.
Some services were restored by the afternoon, but those who made it to work faced the prospect of a hellish journey home. Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that evening storms might cause more damage.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer gave the Metropolitan Transit Authority 30 days to review the breakdown and propose solutions. “It was a system failure,” Spitzer said.
Some 14,000 customers in all five boroughs lost power at the storm’s peak, utility Consolidated Edison said.
Parts of Brooklyn were hit hardest, with 40 houses and up to 200 cars sustaining serious damage, Bloomberg said. The National Weather Service determined that a tornado had touched down.
None of the city’s subway lines -- which carry about 7 million riders a day -- was running at full capacity in the morning rush. Several were shut down. “I don’t know whether God has rush hour in mind when storms hit,” Bloomberg said.
The ripple effects snarled the commute for those traveling
to the city from New Jersey and other areas.
Flights at LaGuardia and Newark airports experienced average weather delays of over an hour.
Many people chose to work at home after the city’s transit authority urged New Yorkers to delay travel.
On crowded subway platforms, tempers frayed as sweaty commuters waited for trains to arrive, while above ground, packed buses and taxis sailed by would-be riders.
“The infrastructure in New York is just getting so old,” said Fran Valerio, who was stuck on a subway between stations, comparing subway problems to last month’s explosion of an 83-year-old steam pipe in Manhattan that killed one person.
The explosion hurt ConEd’s reputation, which was already suffering after blackouts last summer and in 2003.
In July, the transit authority cited budget shortfalls in a proposal to boost fares in early 2008. ConEd filed a nearly $2 billion electricity rate increase proposal in May.
Russianoff said extreme weather and old equipment meant the transit authority needs to make infrastructure improvements.
The city’s transit agency “is dealing with more frequent harsh weather, but the handwriting is on the wall,” he said. “They’re not blind to it, but they’re sort of overwhelmed.”
Additional reporting by Joan Gralla