In the decade following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, when lower Manhattan’s viability as the city’s global business center was very much in question, other, unrelated trends pushed the neighborhood into a renaissance. More people live there and a greater diversity of businesses are located there than before Sept. 11. Landlords, businesses and residents have more financial incentive than ever to invest in the neighborhood, even as the damage wrought by the hurricane has many climate experts predicting a future of devastating storms like Sandy.
When the storm made landfall just south of Atlantic City on the evening of Oct. 29, it pushed a record 13.88-foot storm surge over the southern tip of Manhattan, turning the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel into a 90 million-gallon holding tank, filling the World Trade Center site’s basement levels with up to 30 feet of water.
Water climbed to the ceiling of the South Ferry subway station, the end of the No. 1 line in lower Manhattan, and debris covered tracks in stations up and down other lines after the water rushed in and out.
M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota said that seven subway tunnels between Manhattan and Brooklyn were flooded. The flooding in the tunnels in Lower Manhattan was so serious that the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked specialists from the Army Corps of Engineers to help. The “unwatering team,” as it is known — two hydrologists and two mechanical engineers from the corps with experience in draining flooded areas — flew to the airport in White Plains because it was one of the few in the area that was open.
The eastern part of lower Manhattan, where the FDR highway divides neighborhoods from the waterfront and Pier 17 juts into the East River, was particularly hard hit. The surge and ensuing rainfall flooded parking garages and coffee shops, clothing stores, and at least one doggie daycare (the Salty Paw, on nearby Peck Slip). Thousands of New Yorkers found themselves out of office and home.
When serious questions are asked about residential waterfront communities in New Jersey, Staten Island and the south shores of Long Island, lower Manhattan is rarely mentioned. And while the big landlords interviewed by Capital expressed interest in measures they or the city might take to protect the neighborhood from the next superstorm, in the meantime almost everyone seems to be rebuilding pretty much what was there before.