NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City transit officials say they’ve finished an unprecedented shutdown of the nation’s biggest system of subways, buses and commuter rails ahead of Hurricane Irene.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Saturday night it had secured all its equipment and sent employees home. The transit system stopped running at noon Saturday. It’s the first time officials have ordered the giant network shut down because of bad weather.

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Sandbags and tarps were placed on or around subway grates.
The transit system won’t reopen until at least Monday, after pumps remove water from flooded stations. The subways routinely flood during even ordinary storms and have to be pumped out.

The transit system carries about 5 million passengers on an average weekday. The last time it was seriously hobbled was an August 2007 rainstorm that disabled or delayed every subway line.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the system-wide shutdown of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which includes subways, buses, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and Access-A-Ride.

“We’ll see what happens as far as fresh water and salt water. Either one is very damaging to our system – salt water all the worse because of the corrosive properties of the salt water on the third rails and the electrical systems,” Donovan said.

Officials said the mass transit systems won’t reopen until at least Monday.

“We’re pleased that we didn’t, at least as far as I know, have many reports of overcrowding as people were catching those last trains before service was shut down,” Donovan said.

“Shutting down the New York City subway is not like turning off water in a tap. It does take six to eight hours to complete. Those activities are winding down. We’re making sure all of our crewmembers are going to be able to get back to a safe location. It’s obviously one of our most pressing concerns right now,” Donovan said.

The move to shut down mass transit was prompted by worries about whipping winds for trains and buses above ground and flooding concerns for trains running under rivers through one of 13 tunnels.

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“Buses are going to be parked in high ground. We have bus depots on Staten Island, bus depots out in Queens that are in low-lying areas. And we’re making sure that we’re moving around 330 buses, if not more, up to high ground. You’re going to see a lot of buses right now parked on 126th Street and Second Avenue – spillover from our East Harlem depot,” Donovan said.

“Those tunnels may be flooded and we’re worried a lot about that possibility,” MTA chairman Jay Walder said.

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Cuomo also said if wind speeds exceed 60 mph, area bridges will be closed. Those include the George Washington Bridge, Tappan Zee Bridge, all bridges operated by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority as well as the Bear Mountain, Newburgh-Beacon, Mid-Hudson Kingston-Rhinecliff and Rip Van Winkle bridges.

PATH service is also suspended. The Port Authority says it will resume service if conditions permit.

NJ Transit also stopped running at noon Saturday because of the storm.

After the shut down, MTA chairman Jay Walder says getting the sprawling system running again after the hurricane is going to be a huge challenge.

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“I don’t think there’s any question that the period after the storm will be difficult,” said Walder. “It’s going to be an extremely difficult situation.”

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