The UN headquarters reopens after three days of closure due to the impact of the hurricane, in New York, the United States, Nov. 1, 2012. A senior UN official said here Thursday that the United Nations headquarters complex in New York "suffered significant damage in terms of flooding" from Hurricane Sandy, which hit the metropolitan area on Monday. (Xinhua/Shen Hong)
by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- Staffers returned to find UN headquarters on Thursday with the dome over the General Assembly building stripped of most of its protective covering, the Delegates Entrance security canopy destroyed and communications within a challenge.
All were victims of the wrath super storm Sandy waged on New York City.
Senior UN officials in briefings Thursday said that on Sunday the complex was ordered closed as Sandy barreled up the Atlantic Ocean along the U.S. eastern seaboard towards New York after clobbering parts of the Caribbean last week.
They said they acted in consultation with local authorities and all city bus and subway service had been ordered suspended because of the storm.
Staffers would find it well near impossible to get to work.
What staff was able to report for duty Thursday not only found challenges at work but still had a challenge getting to work. Subway service in the metropolis was limited and driving was near impossible with severe gridlock, despite restrictions on only cars with three or more people allowed to cross city bridges into Manhattan.
There were many, many empty desks both in the compound and in satellite offices around the East Side of Manhattan, officials said. The homes of many UN employees suffered flood, wind damage or electricity loss.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon escaped the storm's fury. He was in the Republic of Korea and returned to New York Wednesday,
His chef du cabinet, Susana Melcora, was in Geneva during the storm, returned only at 3 a.m. local time Thursday. She had been coordinating headquarters recovery efforts by telephone, she said.
However, Melcora found on return to her Manhattan home she was a storm victim too, she said. There was no electricity.
Nearly half of Manhattan, below 39th Street lost power Monday night when waters of the East and Hudson rivers and New York Bay surged under gale-force winds. Most of the Xinhua correspondents assigned to the UN also were without electricity.
One of those many empty UN desks was assigned to a Filipino staffer whose home in Jersey City, in the hard hit adjacent U.S. state of New Jersey, was flooded. However, a UN safety and security officer assigned to an entrance was at his regular post despite his Toms River, NJ, home being "hit hard." In both cases there were no injuries.
"Everyone is fine, that's all that matters," the officer told Xinhua, seemingly shrugging off the disaster.
The 6.84-hectare UN complex adjacent to Manhattan's East River and inland satellite offices was closed for an unprecedented three days because of the weather.
Returning UN staffers found the white plastic sheeting placed over the GA hall's dome ripped off, the white tent-like security canopy at the Delegate's entrance demolished.
They also soon discovered their telephones, internet and in some cases their lighting, incapacitated if not working at all. Officials said they expected such problems repaired during the day.
The public also discovered the UN campus was closed to tours. Several disappointed-looking tourists, a few wearing track suits indicative they had come to town for the New York City Marathon on Sunday, were seen outside or departing the public entrance area.
The UN officials conducting briefings for delegates and reporters, Malcora, Gregory Starr, undersecretary-general for safety and security, and Yukio Takasu, undersecretary-general for management, also were quick to point out that despite the complex' s problems -- including a lack of air conditioning in some sections -- global operations continued.
A Security Council session Wednesday was moved from its temporary chamber in the basement of the GA hall -- temporary because of the major renovations the world organization has been undergoing the last few years -- to the North Lawn Building, itself a temporary construction.
What caused problems for the physical plant, the officials said, was the fast-rising waters of the East River surging through a service road entrance, up and over loading docks at the third basement level and then cascading into still lower levels.
Security officers found their locker room had been flooded out but paper archives dry and secure. The rush of waters forced closing down of air conditioning "chillers" which in turn forced shutdown of the over-heating computer room. The switchboard also took a hit and was inoperative.
The computers were backed up so no data was lost, the officials said, but the UN websites and email were off line for a while.
However, UN Peacekeeping operations although hampered by curtailed telephone service still had important communications lines open.
"During this time we also kept in communication with our overseas units, the agencies, funds and programs," said Starr. " With our missions around the world, we never lost communications. We were in fact clearing missions into highly dangerous areas, making decisions and keeping in constant contact with them as well. "