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Meet the team who's 'unwatering' NYC tunnels

The hurricane that struck New York City left parts of the city flooded, but at levels far less than the storm that hit New Orleans seven years ago. However, work crews will have a tougher time draining water from the Big Apple than they did in the Big Easy.

Most of the problem spots in New York are found several miles underground in an intricate system of subway tunnels, some of them more than a century old.

Craig Ruttle / AP

Joseph Leader, New York's MTA vice president and chief maintenance officer, shines a light on standing water inside the South Ferry 1 train station on Oct. 31.

“Some of those tunnels are up to two miles long, and the only points into them is at each end,” said Roger Less of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ national "unwatering" team. "And that requires us to have some pumping capabilities that perhaps reach to a half-mile to a mile long.”

Less told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie that an estimated 300-400 million gallons of water need to be pumped from the tunnels, but the age of the system have forced work crews to tread lightly. 

Mike Segar / Reuters

A destroyed tile sign sits among debris at the underground entrance of the flooded South Ferry-Whitehall subway terminal.

“Some places we could probably pump out quicker, but we don’t want to collapse the tunnel,” he said.

Less and his team arrived Wednesday in New York to help organize crews that will  pump standing water right back into the city’s rivers and harbors.

Patrick Cashin / Zuma Press

New York City's South Ferry subway station.

“If we run into any bad contamination as a part of that, we’ll deal with it when it comes up," he said.

Less said the term “unwatering” was coined in 2005 when his Army Corps team was sent to Louisiana and “unwater the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.”

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