NYC navigating post-Sandy transportation nightmare

subway, hurricane sandy, flood
The South Ferry subway station on Wednesday, October 31, 2012, still flooded from the Hurricane Sandy storm surge.
CBS News

(CBS News) NEW YORK - Manhattan was mostly empty on Tuesday, but Wednesday it seemed a lot of folks decided the emergency was over and they came pouring into town.

Without the usual trains and subways, there was brutal gridlock on the roads.

Some of the rail service is returning. Joe Leader, the man who oversees maintenance for the Metropolitan Transit Authority took CBS News down for a look at the hardest-hit of all 468 New York City subway stations - South Ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan.

"We had barricaded up top with wood, plywood and sandbags to keep the water out, but when the surge came it brought down all this material that doesn't belong here -- large pieces of lumber and that broke through the barrier and allowed more water to come in," Leader said.

Even Wednesday, there was water just a few steps down from the tops of the steps, but the tracks are another two levels underneath that.

It will take a week alone just to pump out the water, but the subway system will begin partial service Thursday.

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Limited mass transit has left city streets choked with cars -- a telling sign of just how badly the city needs to ease the stress on the roads.

In Midtown Manhattan, Grand Central Terminal reopened after its longest closure ever in its 100 year history.

A 70-year-old man named Michael lives in lower Manhattan without power, so he walked 30 blocks to join other folks and charge his cell phone. When asked if he have ever come to a train station to charge is cell phone, Michael said: "Never."

At 2:30 p.m., trains started running again to the northern suburbs. Bob Lieblong, who runs Grand Central Terminal, visited by 750,000 people a day, said that's an important step in the city's recovery.

"It's very, very important. People have hope now that (Grand Central Terminal) has opened up. It's another step in the right direction," Lieblong said.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is implementing another rule to try to keep traffic down in Manhattan. Starting at 6 a.m. Thursday, only cars with at least 3 passengers will be allowed to enter the city.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.