Salvaging Sandy

By Joseph Keefe, Editor
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Dewatering operation underway at PATH, Jersey City

Donjon Marine’s Emergency Response takes an interesting turn in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane

When Hurricane Sandy swept across the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States in late October 2012, the Category 2 storm eventually became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Certainly, it ranks as one of the most costly and destructive. Estimates of losses due to damage and business interruption are still being compiled but are expected to exceed $70 billion. Hundreds died as a result of the ferocious storm.
In the United States, at least 24 states were impacted, but the damage was particularly severe in New Jersey and New York. The storm surge slammed into New York City on October 29, flooding streets, tunnels and subways and cut power to a large swath of customers in the tri-state area. In advance of the storm, President Obama signed emergency declarations for several states, allowing them to request federal aid and make additional preparations in advance of the storm.
Eventually, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) saw the destruction of 12 subway stations and major damage at other facilities and systems. Interstate commuter rail links were completely devastated by the flooding. And, for the first time ever, flooding occurred in four of six tunnels under the Hudson and East rivers for the first time in history. In response, Donjon Marine Co. Inc. of Hillside, NJ, was mobilized from its base in Port Newark, New Jersey, to provide an emergency pumping capability in response to the devastation resulting from Hurricane Sandy. Usually engaged in water-based salvage operations, this response would turn out to be one of the most interesting – and successful – salvage operations ever undertaken by Donjon.

Dewatering Lower Manhattan Tunnels
The 12 foot storm surge that inundated lower Manhattan, resulting in a catastrophic flooding of numerous subway and vehicle tunnels, was one of the more devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. The day after the storm struck, Donjon’s long-standing Emergency Marine Salvage and Engineering Services contract, held with the U.S. Navy, was activated. Donjon was contracted to bring as much pumping and marine equipment to bear to assist in pumping out the tunnels as fast as possible.
As part of the Army Corp of Engineering’s tasking from FEMA to assist in the response, the Army Corps stood up their “Unwatering Team” and asked the Navy for assistance in bringing in large-scale pumping resources. 
Over the course of nine days, in addition to a flotilla of support barges and cranes and its own pumping equipment, Donjon brought in 6 subcontractor companies to pump out an estimated 125 million gallons of debilitating seawater. The tunnels that Donjon’s crews were specifically responsible for dewatering included the Battery Park Underpass, the PATH tunnels between Jersey City and the World Trade Center, and the 14th St and Montague subway stations. Donjon was assigned to a total of nine tunnels.
Working hand-in-hand with fire departments, tunnel maintenance teams, and subway personnel to plan and execute rapid and efficient dewatering plans, Donjon and its subcontractors worked around the clock for over 12 days to completely drain each of the tunnels, allowing them to be returned to service faster than anyone had predicted. “The speed of the mobilization and dewatering were testimony to the importance of these long-standing Salvage contracts”, said Donjon’s Executive Vice President,  John Witte.  “Donjon’s commitment to the Navy salvage contract was a primary reason for our success and the ability to respond with the depth and caliber of equipment and personnel that was brought to bear” he said.
More than 80,000 gallons per minute of pumping capability was provided within 36 hours of the initial call. In addition, Donjon mobilized a team of over 50 salvage personnel to place and operate the pumping and support equipment.

Unique Challenge: Special Equipment
Donjon mobilized over 30 pumping systems, ranging from 6” hydraulic submersible pumps to 18” centrifugal pump units. Each pump site brought its own unique challenges. Apart from the typical challenges of pumping water up and out from such deep depths (as much as 125’ below street level), Donjon also had to contend with compromised or non-existent ventilation requiring special personnel protective precautions to be taken. 
“I could not have been prouder of the professionalism and selflessness displayed by the many pump operator crews,” said Witte.  “They worked tirelessly for days on end until the job was complete and the tunnels could be returned to service.  These operators are the unsung heroes to this disaster” he said.
In addition to the dewatering operations in nine tunnels, Donjon also assisted in dewatering an Amtrak electrical power sub-station in Kearney, New Jersey, eventually replacing dike valves that had failed during the storm. Donjon, in a separate contract with the U.S. Coast Guard, in later weeks, successfully removed a self-propelled barge that had been pushed up onto a highway on Staten Island.
The U.S. Navy salvage contract is managed by the U.S. Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) located at the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC.  Donjon has held the contract (renewed every five years) for nearly 30 years, during which time they have responded to nearly every major U.S. disaster on the East Coast and Gulf that has involved a marine component, including the responses to Hurricanes Ike and Katrina. One of the contract’s primary purposes is to enable the U.S. Navy to quickly mobilize emergency salvage equipment and personnel in the event of national emergencies. In this case and by quickly mobilizing its equipment, Donjon was able to provide “soup to nuts” support to the US Navy response.
The effort showed how a well-organized salvage service provider, with well-maintained equipment and experienced personnel, can provide timely emergency services and related support when needed. Witte, Jr., added, “In spite of difficult conditions at home, the Donjon team mobilized and worked tirelessly throughout the emergency period. All the Donjon staff and subcontractors were a credit to themselves, Donjon and the communities they helped and supported.”

(As published in the January 2013 edition of Marine News -


  • Donjon salvage personnel in action in wake of Sandy

    Donjon salvage personnel in action in wake of Sandy


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