— Rick (@SubwayCreatures) July 18, 2019
A powerful storm pounded the New York area on Wednesday evening, taking down trees and power lines while flooding parts of the city, including our weather-sensitive subway system. But in addition to the standard delays and train waterfalls, a horrifying situation played out underground in Queens, as a man fell on his back as he battled against a subway tsunami that nearly washed him onto the tracks. [Update Attorney General Letitia James is launching an inquiry into the construction companies who have been working at the station; more details below.]
According to Subway Creatures, a social media account that first shared the video, the incident occurred at the Court Square-23rd Street in Long Island City last night. It's unclear if the man was injured. A spokesperson for the FDNY did not have any information about hospitalizations at that location.
Further details are scarce right now, and the person behind Subway Creatures noted that the filmmaker did not want to be identified, possibly because "they were nervous about the backlash of filming and not helping."
A spokesperson for the MTA could not confirm the video, but said they were looking into it. Others also shared videos showing flooding in the station last night:
— Rose Minutaglio (@RoseMinutaglio) July 18, 2019
When torrential storms have flooded the subways in the past, the transit authority has pointed the finger at the city's ancient sewer system, while playing up their own water-clearing capacity. The transit authority claims that it pumps out 13 million gallons of water on a dry day, and boasts a drainage system that can siphon off about 1.5 inches of rain per hour. Last night's storm dumped about two inches in a relatively short amount of time, according to the National Weather Service.
UPDATE: In a lengthy statement, MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek blamed the flooding on a "shocking lapse" by contractors working for a nearby private development, which is also building a new entrance and elevator at the Court Square Station. The property is luxury condo Skyline Tower, soon to be the tallest skyscraper in Long Island City, and developed by United Construction & Development Group. The building did not have the proper pumping system in place during the storm, Tarek said, leading to the "absolutely unacceptable and avoidable incident."
"Their worksite was inundated with rainwater during severe thunderstorms, causing water to build up at their worksite and breach plywood separating their worksite from the station," according to the MTA's investigation. There were no reported injuries as a result of the breach.
Following the incident, transit officials met with the contractor John Civetta & Sons, Inc., which agreed to restore proper pumping and add additional protections around the worksite, including a dam. Efforts to reach the contractor as well as the construction manager, New Line Structures, were not successful. A person who answered the phone at United Construction & Development Group declined to comment.
We are aware of the dramatic videos of flooding at Court Sq station. This was absolutely unacceptable and caused by a developer/contractor building apartments next door. We're holding them accountable to take steps to keep our riders, staff, and station safe. Our statement: pic.twitter.com/B8mMH5RcxD
— NYCT Subway (@NYCTSubway) July 18, 2019
Update, July 19th: Attorney General Letitia James announced her office was launching an inquiry into the incident. Her office stated, "In response to a letter from Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, Attorney General James is demanding that New Line Structures and Civetta Construction, the companies responsible for recent construction work at the station, produce relevant documents, including contracts, and that all documents related to work on this station be preserved."
“This is an incredibly dangerous situation that easily could have resulted in the loss of a life, and we need answers,” said James in a statement. “These companies are hired to improve conditions without jeopardizing public safety. Yet, I am deeply concerned that instead they may have created a treacherous environment for New Yorkers in this incident."
And Gianaris said, “As the MTA struggles to deliver on its mission for New Yorkers, this is another horrible incident that reveals the dangers subway riders face just for trying to move around our city. In this case, people were nearly killed due to the negligence of a private corporation which must be held to account."