New York fails its security test - "disastrously"

Barry and I were stuck underground on the F train of the New York City MTA system for two full hours this afternoon and evening. Apparently a homeless person threw a rebar onto the tracks, hitting the third rail and wiping out a transformer. Fifty minutes after we were first stopped the spectacular fireworks we saw through the windows, and the smoke and fumes which immediately followed, changed everything. The big fuss just outside was pretty impressive - and very fightening if you are effectively sealed in a crowded tube already rendered immobile.

Shortly after, a very frightening announcement was heard over the speakers above our heads, "Everybody please move to the front of the train". We were no longer just waiting for the train to resume travel. The smoke and fire seemed to be largely just behind where we were sitting, so the suggestion immediately made sense, but it was no less frightening for that. We proceded through the cars and a large number of us ended up bunched at the front of the train. It was like rush hour, but nobody was rushing anywhere. Some people had hankerchiefs over their faces. Some began to cry.

At this point I was thinking, careful not to verbalize it, what was it we did not know, and would cause real panic if we did? We were never given any more information.

One hour and ten minutes after we found ourselves facing the closed door of the train operator's station, following the crew's repeated and identical announcements to the increasingly sceptical and exhausted passengers that police and fire department emergency crews were "on their way", we were finally led out of the crowded train onto a narrow ledge in the tunnel. We walked about 15 feet to an emergency stairway and ascended about three floors into the middle of Greenwich Village. Huh? We had been only steps from freedom all along.

Can someone explain to us why it took so long to rescue hundreds of people sealed in subway cars on account of a mischief somewhat-less-than-extraordinary, and one so easily predictable by anyone charged with emergency planning in a system so extraordinarily vulnerable to such mischief?

So the next question is obvious. Are we all expected to have any confidence in the city's vaunted security apparatus when it is measured against the threat of real terrorists? These days we can barely walk around our own streets without being assaulted by "security" devices and routines obstensively laid out for our protection and we can no longer readily exercise our freedoms of assembly and speech, yet we are clearly not even prepared for even the ordinary, pre-war-on-terror kind of threat. Real saboteurs won't give us two hours, or even 70 minutes.

When we finally emerged this evening through a small hatch onto the sidewalk in front of Da Silvano, A-list homosexuals were sitting outside in cafe chairs, seemingly unaware of the drama of the past few hours just below their tables, but clearly absorbed in admiring the firemen helping the dazed folks exit from the subterranean ladder. White-aproned waiters offered glasses of ice water to refugees from the underworld.

Our fellow passengers had been calm and magnificent throughout, behaving as we have come to expect our neighbors to behave when challenged by danger and the unknown.

We love New Yorkers! But we're very very concerned for New York.

Of course I took pictures, beginning with one from the early, more relaxed period during when we had been told we were only waiting for debris to be cleared from under the cars, and ending with our escape to the gentle ministrations of handsome firemen and cute waiters.

IMG_2825.jpg IMG_2828.jpg IMG_2833.jpg IMG_2837.jpg IMG_2838.jpg IMG_2841.jpg

So of course we immediately went to a late lunch, or early dinner, at Home, a block away, for almost all of the comforts of . . . .

When we finally left the restaurant, sometime after 10 pm, we went back to Bleecker and 6th Avenue where we found even more emergency vehicles and personnel [of virtually every description] than we had seen when we left the area hours earlier and five hours after the incident had begun.

Checking the web and NY1 on our return to the real home [after jumping right back on the saddle, this time that of the 1/9 train at Christopher], we were amazed to find there was absolutely nothing to be found about what I've just described. Nothing. Absolutely nothing, even when I checked again after midnight. It was as if nothing had happened, but try telling it to the frightened passengers on the late afternoon f train.

What's that all about?

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James Wagner's Disastrous Subway Adventure Can someone explain to us why it took so long to rescue hundreds of people sealed in subway cars on account of a mischief somewhat-less-than-extraordinary, and one so easily predictable by anyone charged with ... Read More

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Thanks for the coverage. I've always wondered about crawling out of the subway during a train stoppage.

Oh my GOD. The F-Train is my train and I almost went into the city that day. I am so glad that I didn't. And you are absolutely correct. There has been almost no coverage about this. I wonder why?

What a story!

I saw a report about the incident on UPN/Channel 9 News and was amazed that one single lunatic caused that much trouble. There was video footage and still photos (yours?!). Imagine my fear when my the "L" train I was riding was stuck between Bedford and 1st Avenue. We were delayed ONLY 40 minutes. Of course, once we made it completely into 1st Avenue, a sick passenger was the end for me. I walked to just beyond Union Sq. from that point.

You are correct about not seeing reports on this incident in the papers or on TV. I've looked for it myself as I have heard about it from my mom (who by the way doesn't even live in NYC.) Apparently there was a brief report on the incident on CNN. She called to ask me for more information only to hear that I have never heard about it.

All I have to say is that it reminds me of home - Serbia - where things like this, and worse, happen on daily basis and we never ever hear about it but remain living in an oblivion of a perfect communist society where flow of information is foreign terminology.

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Published on February 29, 2004 10:42 PM.

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