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Hurricane Sandy and World War II
November 1, 2012 - Stephen Browne
I just came across a fascinating article on a device currently in development that might have kept the New York subway tunnels from flooding. (Well, fascinating for infrastructure geeks like me that is.)
"In all, seven New York subway tunnels and two commuter train tunnels flooded during Monday's record flooding. Some of the tunnels were flooded from track to ceiling and "it is still too early to say how long it will take to restore the system to full service," the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates the rail systems, said Wednesday."
See here http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/31/us/new-york-subway-plugs/index.html?hpt=hp_c2
The device is basically a big inflatable balloon plug, and the idea was originally to protect tunnels from terrorist gas or firebomb attacks. Tests have been conducted with high-pressure water though, proving it would be effective in flood emergencies.
The fascinating thing to me is, I happen to know that this has been done before. To be precise, during World War II.
My son's late godmother, and my daughter's namesake, was an Englishwoman named Judith Hatton. She was among other things, the widow of a Russian spy from the KGB department known as SMERSH ("Smiyrt shpionem" or "Death to spies") that James Bond used to tangle with - and that's not even the most interesting thing about her.
During WWII she was the youngest censor at the BBC. Her father was an engineer who helped develop a way to protect the London subway tunnels from disastrous flooding.
During the Blitz this was a serious worry. Literally tens of thousands of people slept in the subway stations which were used as bomb shelters by the people of London. The danger was, three tunnels go under the Thames River. The Luftwaffe used to drop sticks of bombs on the river, hoping to rupture one of the tunnels, which would have flooded most or all of the system causing huge loss of life.
The solution was to install gates at either ends of the tunnels under the river. I'm not sure but I believe they were drop gates that could be slammed shut in seconds if needed.
Of course, if there were trains in transit under the river... The term in medicine is "triage."
Judith was actually in a train in transit under the Thames during an air raid. Evidently during raids, the tube trains would stop moving for the duration. According to Judith people were cheerful and brave, telling jokes and sharing smokes and having a jolly good time sharing the very English camaraderie of tough times.
She told me once she actually considered telling people about the gates on either side of them ready to drop if the tunnel ruptured, but just shrugged and thought, "Oh why spoil the fun since there's nothing we can do about it anyway?"
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