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Hurricane Sandy smacks the Big Apple around

Power, comms, and transport networks take the brunt

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Extreme weather is something we are getting used to here in New York City, and what is clear as we all walk outside to assess the damage from Hurricane Sandy is that the aging infrastructure in the Big Apple was not designed to sustain this kind of hit.

Thankfully, this was a Category 1 hurricane with limited amounts of rain, and did not pack a Category 2 or 3 wallop with six or ten of inches of rain on top of the storm surge. That said, the situation in downtown Manhattan is pretty dire, and the beach and amusement towns that line the Jersey shore have been essentially wiped out because they took the brunt of the storm that New York City missed.

The two big problems are a loss of power south of 34th Street, which covers Wall Street and Battery Park City up to Tribeca and the East and West Village, all the way up to Chelsea and Gramercy Park. Salt water intrusion into the subway system is the other big issue.

The high tide came in around 8:00 PM ET last night concurrent with the peak of the storm surge, pushed up by the counterclockwise winds of Sandy. Consolidated Edison, the power distribution company that supplies electricity, gas, and steam (yes, steam) in New York, intentionally shut down power to lower Manhattan as water intruded into the power plant on the Lower East Side. Shortly thereafter, the transformers in this plant spectacularly exploded.

It is this power outage that has knocked out Internap's and Peer 1's shared colocation facility at 75 Broad Street and another at 33 Whitehall Street that is operated by Datagram. Atlantic Metro, which is further north at 121 Varick Street on the west side of lower Manhattan, is reporting networking and data center power outages, and the massive data center at 111 8th Avenue also on the west side of lower Manhattan also has flooding and power outages.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the power outages and flooding in and around New York are also causing land line and wireless service outages. El Reg can tell you from personal experience that Verizon phone lines are a mess this morning.

Outside of the city, where many cable and telco companies hang their wires alongside power lines so trees can eat them, phone and cable service is obviously out. Across all of the power companies that serve New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, there are approximately 8 million people without power.

The New York Stock Exchange closed yesterday ahead of Hurricane Sandy, and is closed again today as the city dries out, and since no one can get to work anyway with the bridges, trains, and subways closed. This is the first time since the great winter blizzard of 1888 that weather has caused Wall Street to close two days in a row, but NYSE says it will open back up tomorrow.

It is less clear when the subway will be open. The ancient switches used in the system are allergic to salt water, and the components of the system are not something you can pick up at Home Depot to replace. Mayor Mike Bloomberg said in a press conference that the subway would be out of commission for four or five days, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hoped to have some buses back up and running by this afternoon.

And interestingly, after two hurricanes in two years, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has floated the idea that perhaps it is time to build a levee system for New York Harbor.

Bootnote

Where I live in Northern Manhattan, high up on a hill on the top floor of the apartment facing east with nothing but La Guardia's flight path in front of me, the wind was no joke. The windows, which are crap, held, but I would be lying if I said I was confident they would.

While downtown Manhattan and parts of Queens and Brooklyn were in the Zone A storm surge area, so was the bus depot, the A-C-E subway train yard, and the Sherman Creek power substation, which I can see out my windows and which all sit next to the Harlem River.

The Harlem River is linked to the Hudson River by a canal where I live (this is what makes it an island, in fact, and not an isthmus) and the water was very high to cresting on the morning high tide on Monday morning and presumably came a lot closer to cresting above its banks during the storm surge on Monday night. (I could not see it from my living room because it was too dark).

We lost some bricks, the windows held, we had power and phones and internet, and the Harlem stayed in its banks. We were lucky when others were not. This time. And there will be a next time. ®

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