Five underground walls of water containing hundreds of millions of gallons stand between New Yorkers and their lifeblood of full subway service.

It’s going to take hundreds of pumps, including ones powerful enough to drain an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 15 minutes; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Unwatering SWAT Team; and at least several more days to get the job done.

“We don’t dewater tunnels very often,” said Pete Snow, lead trainer for White Plains, New York-based Xylem Inc. (XYL), which positioned 200 pumps in the area before Atlantic superstorm Sandy. “These kinds of disasters are always a first run. We don’t get a dress rehearsal.”

Five subway tubes, two Amtrak tunnels and three of the city’s primary roadways remain under water after the largest- ever Atlantic tropical system slammed into the U.S. East Coast.

A 2011 New York state study estimated it would take three days to drain the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel between Brooklyn and the Battery in Lower Manhattan if it was flooded in a major storm. It’s already been four days. The tunnel is filled floor to ceiling for more than a mile — an estimated 86 million gallons (326 million liters) of water — in its two tubes.
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