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Subway flooding slows NYC commuters

New York City commuters attempt to board an uptown bus in Lower Manhattan after subway service was disrupted today when heavy rainfall caused flooding.

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Kai Ryssdal: Seven million riders use the New York City subway system on your average workday. The reason we're talking about it right now is that today wasn't anywhere near average.

Major storms swept through the New York area early this morning. The National Weather Service is trying to figure out if there was a tornado, too. One person's dead, some neighborhoods are flooded. Commuters were left steaming on platforms and sidewalks on one of the hottest and most humid days of the year.

After the recent steam pipe explosion in Manhattan and the Minneapolis bridge collapse, it was just one more reminder about failing infrastructure we didn't necessarily want to hear. From New York, Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: The Lexington Avenue subway station was crammed with frustrated riders this morning. These words from a subway spokesman to local news channel New York One came too late for many.

New York One: So if people are at home, they're about to leave their house, my advice to you is don't.

Rae Zimmerman teaches planning and public administration at New York University. When it rains heavily, she says, the city's streets and sewers flood and that water flows into the subway system.

Rae Zimmerman: We do have pumps that are used to get rid of the excess water. But when a big sudden flood comes like this, a flash flood, it even overwhelms the ability of the pumping system to accommodate it.

Robert Paswell of City College says there wasn't much that could have been done to prevent the shutdown.

Robert Paswell: If you want to invest more money to prevent floods that occasionally come up, you'll be investing millions if not billions of dollars in event that might be costing you when the event occurs much less than that. So there's a real cost-benefit analysis that has to be done on looking at this.

Paswell says New York's transportation system isn't perfect. It needs a better communication network so commuters can find out what's going on in a crisis.

But that's tomorrow's problem. Today, New York had a more pressing concern:

Paswell: The thing that should be looked at is how quickly can the system recover from the event and be back to normal.

As of 3 p.m. today, the city transit authority said most lines had resumed service.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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