Thomas Abdallah has seen a lot of water in his 26 years of work for New York City's transit system. In December 1992 a nor'easter storm killed the subway's power, forcing rescue crews to evacuate passengers from flooding tunnels. In August 2007 a five-inch deluge that meteorologists called an “extreme climate event” shut down the system again. So did Hurricane Irene in August 2011. Then came Hurricane Sandy.
As Sandy's storm surge began to flood downtown Manhattan last October, dozens of New York City transit workers scrambled in the wind and rain to place plywood sheets and sandbags across subway entrances. But the oncoming water pushed right through the feeble barricades, pouring down stairwells until underground stations filled chest deep, in turn filling seven long train tunnels running under the rivers between the boroughs. Huge pumps in more than 300 man-made caverns deep below the city's subway line, which can push out 18 million gallons of water a day, couldn't possibly keep up.