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EXCLUSIVE: MTA's Incredible Effort To Reopen Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel -- also known as the Hugh Carey -- is finally open, at least partially.

The tunnel was completely flooded during Superstorm Sandy. CBS 2's Elise Finch was there the night it flooded, and on Wednesday got an exclusive look inside at the ongoing repair work.

Half of the tunnel is open for business. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is calling it a major accomplishment after nearly 80 million gallons of Sandy's flood waters rushed down the streets of Manhattan and filled all four lanes of the twin tubes, something that shocked even the tunnel's general manager.

"We never had water in this tunnel, ever. The only water we had was from cars, snow. We never had a leak, we don't have leaks. This tunnel is built under bedrock," Marc Mende told CBS 2's Finch.

CBS 2 was the only station broadcasting live when Sandy's floodwaters overwhelmed the tunnel's pumping system. Now that the water has been pumped out, we're the only station that got a look inside the still-closed west tunnel, where crews were still working around the clock Wednesday.

The ventilation system had to be fixed first.

"We provide fresh air from the bottom portion of the tunnel through these fresh air flews and is exhausted through the ceiling. The mid-river portion, 6,000 feet of ventilation was affected by the water," MTA Bridges and Tunnels facility engineer Romolo DeSantis said.

Next up, fixing the cameras.

"We have approximately 30 cameras in each tube. Their purpose is for disabled vehicles and just life safety systems. They were totally submerged in water, so not only do we have to replace the cameras, but also the power to those as well," Director of Maintenance Charles Passarella said.

Nearly 900 lights were still being removed, cleaned, rewired, tested and replaced on Wednesday.

More than two weeks have passed since water cascaded into the tunnel. The damage was so extensive repair work could last another two weeks, officials said.

"I would say we're maybe half through right now," Mende said.

"I mean, if you had seen the damage from day one you might have thought a month, two months but two weeks? That's fast for the damage that was in there," MTA maintenance worker Robert Haibi said.

Some of the employees lost homes to Hurricane Sandy, but said they'll continue to work non-stop until the tunnel is fully repaired.

Officials wouldn't even venture a guess as to what the final repair costs will be.

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