Sandy's Unsung Heroes: 'Unwatering Team' Drains New York's Tunnels

Joseph Leader MTA Hurricane Sandy

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.

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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.

Roger Less unwatering team Hurricane SandyHow, 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.

And where are a majority of the pumps coming from?

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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Like the sweet James Taylor tune says "You Got a Friend"; We salute those who help our Nation in any way and lend a hand to the needy.God Bless!

November 11 2012 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

another unsung hero...the faceless minimum wage gas station attendents who went to work with their own houses in shambles to get the job done....

November 05 2012 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hi all well it looks like we will be going home something about disputes if we are union or not.I always thought we as americans came together in times of need.But now we are being frowned upon,Thats ok ny and nj can clean themselfs up .So we are packing up our equipment and pumps (which by the way they wanted us to leave them) and heading back home .When people get done with there petty politics we will be waiting good luck all

November 05 2012 at 6:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wheres Sean Penn, Jolie and Pitt ?

November 04 2012 at 8:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Many thanks to anyone who helped out during this are all angels...peace.

November 04 2012 at 6:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wheres Sean Penn, Jolie and Pitt ?

November 04 2012 at 4:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Lets all give a major Thank You to anyone who is or has helped out in this mess, no matter how small or large their part is.

November 04 2012 at 4:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

So this "unwatering team" was a gift from the Bush Administration? Why didn't Obama send them in to help when Nashville, was flooded?

November 04 2012 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kesac's comment

Maybe you have to have somewhere to pump the water. In TN the rivvers were swollen so there was nowhere to pump the water.

November 04 2012 at 11:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

God Bless all these guys. Plus the bicycle young men that rode through Staten Island. The Marathoners who went to help. I live in the West Coast. If I could afford it I would gather clothes and food and take it there.

November 04 2012 at 2:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

So many people work behind the scene doing very important jobs that all of the rest of us wouldn't want to do...and because we don't see them - we never thank for all of those that do these types of jobs...truly a very heartfelt thank you for all that YOU do for us.

November 04 2012 at 12:53 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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