Among the assets destroyed by Superstorm Sandy was one piece of critical infrastructure that didn't even exist two decades ago: the cabling and switching that serves lower Manhattan's data networks. In an age when New York City's role as a nerve center for society and the economy depends on the Internet, the flooding of Verizon's switching centers under downtown is a serious matter.

Vox Media's "The Verge" news website has an up-close look at the action underground in this online report: ("Into the vault: the operation to rescue Manhattan's drowned internet," by Dante D'Orazio). The Verge's coverage includes some astonishing photos of the tangled web under Verizon's central office on Broad Street near the tip of Lower Manhattan. Verizon executive Christopher Levendos told the Verge reporter about damage to the nerve center under the building, which contains old copper wiring along with fiber-optic cable and switches responsible for routing local phone calls as well as DSL and FiOS data and phone service in and out of worldwide networks. "Levendos tells me the 90,000 cubic foot cable vault has suffered a 'catastrophic failure,' far worse than the damage done to a similar, but much larger vault at Verizon's West Street headquarters near the World Trade Center," writes D'Orazio.

Copper wiring was submerged for days and has been ruined — not just at the nerve center, but at manholes around downtown. And because paper in the wire's insulation sucks water up into the cables, even wiring that didn't get submerged has been ruined. Glass fibers that carry data encoded into laser light pulses isn't subject to corrosion by salt water, but the FiOS system has still been damaged — because the electronics that send the light into the fibers suffered degradation from the soaking.

The copper is toast, Verizon's Levendos says, and so Verizon has decided to replace it all with fiber, all over downtown. But their repair effort at the hub is running on backup generators brought in from off site: the already-installed backup generators in the upper floors of the building were served by fuel pumps at ground level that got ruined in the flood, and have to be fixed. Meanwhile, Verizon won't say how many thousands of data customers in downtown are still unconnected — or how long it will take to hook them back up.