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     By: Tanya
    Steam Pipe Refugee & Subway Flood Saturday, 11 August 2007 14:02

    It's been a rough few weeks in Manhattan. Don't get me wrong, I still love love love the city, but some recent events have been hard to deal with.

    On the evening of July 18th, I left work at 370 Lexington around 5:45pm, a little later than my usual 5:30. A while after arriving home, Philip's sister Mary called to say there was a steam pipe explosion at 41st and Lexington, *right* next to where I work. We checked out the tv coverage and saw the mayhem, but I didn't get a sense of the full extent of the damage. It looked bad enough though that I called my co-workers to let them know what happened.

    As the evening wore on, the severity of the event became more apparent and by the morning the company I work for announced we would be closed. We have people in 2 buildings other than 370 Lex and all 3 were in the 'frozen zone'. Details were still sketchy, but as the day wore on it seemed likely that the offices would be closed again on Friday. This actually turned out well for me, since it gave Philip and I an opportunity to get a head start on his high school reunion weekend (more on that in another post). We had a ball that weekend, but as Monday approached the situation at the office was still unclear. It seemed that my building would definitely be closed, but our main location may be open in which case I was to report there. The final word that night was it was expected we would be closed on Monday, since we were still in the frozen zone.

    Monday morning arrived bringing a horrible rainstorm, and there was still no update on the office. But later that morning they put out the word that our main location would be open, so I headed for the office in the downpour, having no idea where they were going to put us. The area was a complete mess, giving me my first inkling of how much damage occurred. When I got there many people had still not made it in. A couple of my co-workers arrived and we were assigned to one conference room, and then another. This first day was very discombobulated since we had no access to any of our paperwork, computers, etc. We did our best trying to set up the conference room for work, but we were still assuming we would only be there a few days.

    My office at 370 Lex is on the 8th floor on the Lexington side, the side closest to the blast. I had heard there were some windows blown out in the area, so after work I got as close as I could to the building to see what it looked like. I was shocked to see that about 80% of the windows on that side of the building were boarded up, all the way to the top of the building. My desk is right next to the window so I was starting to feel very freaked out that I had left the office only 10 minutes before the blast. (You can see a small shot of the building above.)

    Every day the area is cleared a bit more, but there is still a huge amount of equipment and blockades in the area. Over the last few weeks they have ripped up and covered over several streets in the surrounding blocks...I have no idea what they're doing it for. Aside from 9/11 (which was obviously incredibly worse), I haven't seen this type of disruption in Manhattan since moving here in 1993. I had no idea a steam pipe could cause so much destruction.

    As the days passed, we realized that it would be weeks, if not months before we would be able to get back into 370, and we still have no idea how much (if any) of our equipment, paperwork, etc. survived. Working out of a conference room has been a little tough, the worst of it being having to recreate all of the paperwork we no longer had access to, and battling a general sense of disorientation. But I've been so impressed by how my co-workers and I have pulled together to keep our department running.

    They have started moving people back into 370, but only the 15th floor and above. A report on NY1 News says that they hope to get the rest of the tenants back in by the end of the month, but I have to admit I'm not very optimistic. (You can see the news story here, which includes a video news report: www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?&aid=72418&search_result=1&stid=8# )

    So after dealing with those conditions for a few weeks, this past Wednesday I was woken up by a violent thunderstorm. It didn't seem too out of the ordinary though, and it seemed to pass quickly. However, when I left for work I saw about 25 people waiting for the bus, at a stop which is normally devoid of people. Hmmm...I went down into the subway where the board in the subway booth announced delays on all lines. It was quite chaotic so I decided to go back home to figure out what was going on. It turned out that the storm (which also caused a tornado in Brooklyn!) had dumped so much rain on the city in such a short amount of time that the entire subway system had flooding problems. Great.

    I called my boss and then headed out again, uncertain as to what to do. First I tried the B/C downtown. There was a train in the station, but after waiting about 15 minutes for it to move I decided to try the 1. Well, that wasn't running at all. So I started walking south from 104th Street, figuring I could pick up a bus or something on the way. The heat and humidity were awful, but I found it tolerable as long as I could stay in the shade. I saw no downtown buses all the way to 59th Street! At Columbus Circle I bought a lemonade and carried on. At that point the subways were starting to come back, but they were still delayed so it didn't seem to make sense to try them.

    I finally arrived at work close to 11am, feeling pretty exhausted. I do walk home from time to time, but I think the heat just took all the energy out of me. I had experienced a line or two getting flooded in the past, but I was surprised that flooding could cause such widespread delays.

    Thankfully service was pretty much back to normal by the time I left work, and I'm hoping this will be the last of the NYC infrastructure failures for a very long while!