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Slushy Mess Causes Transit Headache as Streets Flood and Trains Shut Down

By Mathew Katz | February 5, 2014 5:46am | Updated on February 5, 2014 3:33pm
  Snow, sleet and freezing rain left the city a mess on Wednesday, with train outages and flooded streets.
Slushy Mess Causes Transit Chaos
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NEW YORK CITY — It's a mess out there.

A mix of snow, sleet and rain turned the city's streets into a slushy soup on Wednesday as commuters struggled to deal with flooded roads and shut down subway service — with trains still recovering as New Yorkers embarked on their evening commute.

Metro-North planned to operate at 75 percent of its normal evening rush hour service, the MTA said. Some local and express trains were set to be combined, with the trains departing Grand Central Terminal at the later of the two times.

Subways were expected to run with minor delays during the afternoon and evening, but express service on some lines will end after rush hour when the MTA begins to store trains underground on express tracks to protect them from harsh weather.

The evening commute comes after a hectic morning that affected thousands of New Yorkers on their way into work. 

A power failure shut down 1, 2 and 3 trains north of 42nd Street-Times Square during the height of morning rush hour, according to the MTA, sparking frustration among commuters. Service on those lines resumed with delays at about 10:40 a.m., officials said. 

"There are folks now trying to troubleshoot why. The why question hasn't been answered yet," New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco told reporters at a snow press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The city's streets fared no better than subways on Wednesday as the combination of melting snow and rain overwhelmed the city's gutters, sparking flooding conditions so bad on parts of Park Avenue that taxis were driving onto the sidewalk to drop off passengers, witnesses said. 

"It's been a sloppy day," said 55-year-old Park Slope resident Hugh Reilly. "There are little moats around every single corner. And when it freezes, it's going to look like some kind of moonscape with slopes and craters everywhere."

The National Weather Service put a winter storm warning into effect until 5 p.m. Wednesday after an estimated 4 inches of snow fell in Central Park overnight. The wintry weather was expected to continue throughout the day with freezing rain and sleet.

Temperatures for the day were expected to hover right around the freezing mark, with wind gusts coming out of the northwest at about 10 to 15 mph.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña defended the city's decision to keep schools open, saying 60 percent of students showed up for class. She said some parents needed the option of school because they had to get to work, but said for parents concerned about safety, it was up to them to decide whether to send their children to school on a case-by-case basis.

"That's their decision," Fariña said.

Parents railed against the city for expecting students to report to class as usual.

"What would it take 4 the #NYC public schools 2 be closed? not snow, ice rain, a Kardashian wedding, or the apocalypse," tweeted @RyJamesG

"Whyyyy are NYC public schools still open?? SMH," tweeted @AnnaSackel.

Other transit issues Wednesday morning included the 7 line shutting down between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square at about 9:45 a.m. because of smoke on the Queens-bound track at Grand Central Terminal, the FDNY and MTA said. It had resumed with delays at about 10:30 a.m.

Brooklyn-bound Q trains were running local from 57th Street to Canal Street and F trains were running local between Queensboro Plaza and Forest Hills-71st Avenue.

Metro-North combined several lines to serve passengers, diverting usual service, while power lines into Penn Station went down early Wednesday, affecting Amtrak, NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road service.

NJ Transit trains were diverted to Hoboken during the outage as trains were put on a special storm schedule and passengers were warned to brace for 20- to 30-minute delays because of weather conditions.

As transit slowly recovered from the weather's impact, de Blasio warned New Yorkers that the trip home could also be tough.

"If you don't need to go out, don't go out. If you don't need to drive, don't drive," de Blasio said at a lunchtime briefing.

Bianco said transit problems could continue as the city faces another storm over the weekend.

"We will continue to see sporadic problems as long as we're encountering this weather," he said.

The weather also affected Con Edison, which reported outages for more than 2,300 customers in Brooklyn and Queens. The utility company expected to restore power to affected households by mid-afternoon.

The bad weather conditions caused a worker to be injured at the H&M near Lexington Avenue and East 59th Street when he was hit by falling debris, officials said. He was taken to Cornell Hospital, according to the FDNY.

The awning of a Duane Reade at 24 E. 14th St. collapsed just before 9 a.m., officials said, though it was not immediately clear if that was due to the weather.

In The Bronx, a roof collapsed at a 2.5-story private dwelling at 2735 University Ave., the FDNY said. No one was injured and the Department of Buildings was on the scene to determine the cause. 

In East Williamsburg, the roof of an abandoned full-story metal shed at Grattan Street and Thames Street collapsed due to excessive snow, FDNY officials said.

With reporting by Heather Holland, Emily Frost and Tanay Warerkar