Sandy's Unsung Heroes: 'Unwatering Team' Drains New York's Tunnels
Their job title sounds like a linguistic, and even practical, impossibility: They are the "unwatering" team. Their assignment: Drain the water from New York City after Hurricane Sandy drowned the East Coast.
"I didn't know there was such a name for a team," was how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reacted to the crew's work at a press conference about the recovery effort. (Joseph Leader, Metropolitan Transportation Authority vice president and chief maintenance officer, is shown above in a flooded subway station in New York.)
Led by Roger Less (pictured below), of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the "unwatering team" of four engineers arrived in New York on Wednesday and began their work pumping water from the many tunnels below New York City. Roger Less has a degree in civil engineering; he specializes in the construction and maintenance of infrastructure sites such as tunnels. (The average salary of a civil engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is $61,951, according to Glassdoor [an AOL Jobs sponsor].)
In total, the unwatering team expects to drain 300 to 400 million gallons of water from below ground, according to a report by NBC's "Today" show. Much, but not all, of the water above ground has already receded to pre-hurricane levels.
The assignment is all the more complicated given the fragile nature of New York's subway system, which in some parts is more than 100 years old. "Some places we could probably pump out quicker, but we don't want to collapse the tunnel," Less said.
How, exactly, is the "unwatering" accomplished?
According to a report by Wired, the process requires a combination of generators, powerful pumps and trucks. The idea is to send the water back to sea, a feat largely accomplished thanks to the water pumps, a "high head submersible" pump and a centrifugal one. The former has the capability of extracting water as far down as 100 feet, while the centrifugal pump functions much like a straw, sucking up water through a hose.
The team started the work at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which connects the outer borough to Manhattan. But it's then moving on to work on other major arteries in the New York metropolitan area, including the Lincoln Tunnel. (The Holland Tunnel reopened for buses Friday.) The Army Corps already has delivered 25 pumps, while the Coast Guard is sending 16 more. And the Pentagon expects to deliver another 120.
New Orleans, of course. The "unwatering team" was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Back then the team helped remove 250 billion gallons of water from New Orleans, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Since completing that task, the team has also used the unwatering pumps in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Rita (2005), Gustav (2008) and Isaac (2012).
The team also has aided foreign nations, including Thailand after major flooding last year in that Southeast Asian nation.
This go-round, the work is expected to wrap up by Thanksgiving. But either way, the recovery efforts are already receiving plaudits from just about everyone. TV host/political comedian Jon Stewart captured just how refreshing the performance has been by calling his segment Wednesday night on the recovery, "The Daily Show Tribute To Institutional Competence."
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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