UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- A senior UN official said here Thursday that the United Nations headquarter complex in New York "suffered significant damage in terms of flooding" from Hurricane Sandy, which hit the metropolitan area on Monday.
Gregory B. Starr, the UN under-secretary-general for safety and security, made the statement during a briefing at the UN General Assembly on the effects of the superstorm, a massive storm described by experts as one of the largest ever that hit the United States.
"We have suffered significant damage in terms of flooding," Starr said. "Flooding was at an historic level."
The flooding was worse in lower levels of the UN complex along New York's swollen East River brought by the superstorm Sandy.
But he said that the UN headquarters was in "constant contact" with operations around the world "clearing missions into highly dangerous areas."
The UN headquarters reopened on Thursday after three days of closure due to the impact of the hurricane. During the closure, the UN complex was off limits to the accredited correspondents, the UN security told Xinhua that only "essential personnel" was allowed into the compound on the First Avenue on Manhattan, the downtown area of New York City.
"The storm really hit us between Monday night and Tuesday morning," Starr said. "By Tuesday morning it was lifting."
"We had people in the buildings and had a crisis operations group meeting 10:30 Tuesday morning right at the beginning as soon as we could get in," he said. "We recognized that we had, in fact, suffered significant damage in terms of flooding. The flooding here reached historic or above historic levels."
"I must admit that it has affected us in terms of flooding our lowers levels," he said. "It got into many of our electrical components. It got into our chillers (part of air conditioning). It also left a tremendous amount of water in some of our lower levels."
They looked closely at the top of this building, Starr said. "If you looked at it the sheathing was torn off and we had to make sure this building was safe to utilize before we put anybody back in it."
"We had to make the same assessments for the (temporary) North Lawn Building (NLB), the (39-story) Secretariat building, the Annex buildings, the Dag Hammarskjold Library," he said.
"And because we had limited staff and because we had some limits on capabilities because of limits on staff and people who couldn't get here we knew almost immediately that we could not support operations on Wednesday," he said. "The problem with that was that our communications was severely affected and we could not send any emails out, we could not use the web, we could not broadcast."
"The first time we got even limited connectivity was Tuesday night at midnight -- Tuesday night Wednesday morning midnight time, " he said. "That was the first time we had connectivity."
"Our communications backup systems worked in terms of backing up our information," he said. "Our information wasn't lost. But rebuilding our systems and bringing them back up on line has been a difficult challenge."
"You will note that we still do not have full connectivity," he said. "We are still continuing to work on these things. We will strive to do better the next time."
"We recognize that some of our member states were not fully informed as to what our operations would be on Wednesday. We recognize this and we will try to do better the next time. However we were doing the best we could under very, very difficult circumstances."
"We were dedicated to getting operations as fast and as quickly as possible but also safely," he said. "And balancing the safety of the people on this campus with the fact that we had many people around the area who had their own personal difficulties and we are still very, very understaffed."
"During this time, we also kept in communication with our overseas units, the agencies, funds and programs, with our missions around the world, we never lost communications," he said. "We were in fact clearing missions into highly dangerous areas, making decisions and keeping in constant contact with them as well. "
"So, I think despite the difficulties that we faced and an emergency system that worked well our people responded," he said. "We have lessons we learned from this and we will do studies after this to see how we can even improve more."
"And overall, as a balance between moving back into operations as quickly as possible and ensuring the safety of the personnel and everybody that comes onto this entire campus, continuing our operations overseas, we are quite satisfied with the response were able to put together on those issues," he said. "We also know that we need some work on some other things and we will try our best on those."
The UN complex is undergoing its first major renovation, which started some two years ago, since it opened 60 years ago at a cost of some 2 billion U.S. dollars.
Superstorm Sandy brought about serious water damage to the chamber of the UN General Assembly building overlooking the East River, which spilled over into Manhattan due to the impact of the hurricane, prompted the UN Security Council to move a special meeting to a temporary base on Wednesday.
Also on Thursday, Starr was at a joint press conference with Yujio Takasu, the UN under-secretary-general for management, and Susana Malcora, chef de cabinet for the UN secretary-general, who just returned to New York on Wednesday from a trip to the Republic of Korea.
They explained how the stormy surge came over the FDR Drive, which parallels the East River and runs under portions of the UN complex about 4 a.m. local time Tuesday, entered the service drive of the UN at the third basement level.
Starr said the flood waters rose above the loading docks level "and then started plummeting down into the lower levels of the United Nations."
That was when the chillers, switchboard and computer room were affected, the officials said. With the chillers out of service the computer room became overheated and had to be shut down, affecting internet connectivity and email. A small fire neat the switchboard touched off by a short circuit caused by the flood was extinguished within second by the same waters.