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A Look Inside The Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Home To 8 Million Gallons Of Water

MTA Running Pumps Night And Day To Open Things Back Up For 70,000 Vehicles
Queens Midtown Tunnel Flooding (credit: CBS 2)

Queens Midtown Tunnel Flooding (credit: CBS 2)

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Superstorm Sandy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — On Thursday night, CBS 2 got a first look inside the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which was filled with millions of gallons of salt water, thanks to the surge created by Superstorm Sandy.

Reporter Cindy Hsu was on the Manhattan side of the tunnel observing as The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was working 24/7 to pump the water out.

When Hsu first made her way into the tunnel, the tell-tale sign of seeing something no one had ever seen before took place when natural light slowly dissipated. The tunnel got very cold, damp and pitch black.

The only light came from a police cruiser that led her in and from a light one of her photographers brought.

About a third of the way into the tunnel, which runs 1.6 miles from Manhattan to Queens, Hsu started seeing the water. It had nearly reached the ceiling of  the tunnel during the storm — more than 12 feet high. The loud noise of the pumps trying to get the water out was deafening, Hsu reported.

Mike Finlay of MTA Bridges and Tunnels said he saw the water come rushing in late Monday night and showed Hsu how the agency was trying to get that water out.

“There is a 10-inch line; it’s pumping the water out to the Manhattan side from the middle of the tube. The sealant is broken on that one, but yeah the water is going out,” Finlay said. “They estimate about 8 million gallons. It’s never happened before. When the water came in it looked liked something out of a movie, really.”

In parts of the tunnel, the water was still very high. In others, specifically sections with orange lane dividers, the water was “down” to about 3-feet deep, Hsu reported.

While the tunnel is encased in bedrock under the East River, the surge of water came from  the nearby Newtown Creek on the Queens side, and kept on coming for 90 minutes, Hsu reported.

Once the shock from seeing something so surreal subsided, the big question became, when would the tunnel re-open?

“We’re making every effort to open as soon as possible, but it is a long process. Our first phase is to remove the water. Then we must assess the damage and determine the repair,” said Renee Shepherd of MTA Bridge and Tunnels. “We’ll do it as soon as possible, safely.”

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