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Army Corps Sends 'National Unwatering SWAT Team' To Help With NYC Subway

"The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night."

That's how Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, explained the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy to the venerable mass transit system on Tuesday.

The problem is so big that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had deployed an elite 12-member team to help out.

In a press release, the Corps said the team was assembled and trained after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. They were the ones who helped pump the water out of the city.

The New York Times reports this is the first time the team has been deployed outside of New Orleans. The paper adds:

"On Tuesday afternoon, two hydrologists and two mechanical engineers from the corps were in a government jet headed to New York. The jet was expected to land around 5:30 p.m. at the Westchester County airport in White Plains, N.Y., one of the few airports open in the New York metropolitan area.

"The team plans to first assess the severity of the flooding, and over the next few days more personnel would most likely be sent to New York, said Rodney Delp, the chief of the team, which is based in Rock Island, Ill. ...

"'What they typically do is look at engineering drawings to look at the natural low points and what the natural drainage may be, and how long it will take to drain,' Mr. Delp said of his team. 'They then look for areas to breach, figure out what size of pumps to use for the water,' and begin the process of removing the water."

Capital New York reports that Cuomo, seemingly amused, introduced the team as the "national unwatering SWAT team."

The Atlantic Wire was certainly amused by the name, too. So they talked to Delp who explained that "unwatering" as opposed to "dewatering" means removing water from a place where it wasn't supposed to be in the first place.

In other words, what they want to accomplish in the subway.

The Atlantic also gets the details on how exactly this team does its job. Among its tools: "trailer mounted trash pumps," and "self priming pumps" that "can pass water and even golf ball-sized debris."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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