Con Ed has installed curtains made of Kevlar around the power plant that can be deployed to prevent flooding. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times Photo
The existing control room on the ground floor of the the Con Ed plant will be replaced with a more modern control system that will be on the second floor. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
A bright flash that could be seen from Brooklyn signaled the failure of a substation on the site and heralded the long blackout that began minutes later. More than seven million gallons of salt water poured into the Canarsie Tunnel, which carries L trains under the East River. Twelve blocks north, the sprawling Bellevue Hospital Center complex, New Yorks’ flagship public hospital, had to be evacuated for the first time because it had no power, elevator service or drinking water.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to close the Canarsie Tunnel for an overhaul of its interior in 2019 that will take more than a year and suspend service between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The agency’s $7.6 billion program in response to Sandy has included installing submarine doors, Kevlar curtains and mechanical gates to plug more than 3,000 openings into the subway below 14th Street.
Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the transportation authority, said, “We looked for every possible area where water could come in and we sealed it, or we will seal it.” When Sandy struck, the only defenses the subway system had were plywood and sandbags, he said.
“We learned our lesson,” Mr. Lhota said.
At Bellevue, a wall will be built behind the hospital as part of a flood barrier along the East River. “We would really rather shelter in place than evacuate,” said Roslyn Weinstein, a vice president for operations for NYC Health & Hospitals, the city’s public health system.
Today, the Con Ed plant has several layers of defenses against even worse flooding than Sandy delivered. Much of the critical equipment has been raised, some as high as 35 feet. A second-story control room is replacing the old one at ground level.
Forty-five doorways have been outfitted with 10-foot-tall curtains made of Kevlar that can be deployed in minutes. The utility installed a submarine door that can seal off a tunnel that runs under the highway to the river, which originally was used to shuttle coal from barges.
“Our belief now is if Sandy were to recur, we would be able to remain in service,” said Lou Villani, Con Ed’s chief engineer.
But water from the river could still rush past the plant and into the streets and basements of the surrounding neighborhoods because the idea of building berms around Lower Manhattan is still in the planning stages. The first phase of that plan, known as the Big U, would involve installing walls and gates attached to existing structures, like the elevated F.D.R. highway.
Daniel A. Zarrilli, the city’s chief resilience officer, said officials hope to start construction on that segment, estimated to cost $740 million, by the end of next year. He said it would take several years to complete.
“There’s the need for greater flood protection in New York City,” Mr. Zarrilli said, calling it “a real vulnerability that we’re working every day to solve.”
Workers at the Coney Island Houses in Brooklyn, where the New York City Housing Authority is spending $86.5 million on resiliency projects, including installing backup generators on rooftops. Credit Joshua Bright for The New York Times