Stuart Brown, an associate professor at the New York University Langone Medical Center, provides a first-hand account of the lasting damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy when a 15 foot storm surge flooded the medical center's labs last month.
Brown, who heads up research computing and bioinformatics at the lab, says in his blog that the informatics group's computing cluster was located in a sub-basement that was "flooded to the ceiling (and half-way filled the floor above) for a couple of days with water from the East River mixed with fuel oil, and the contents of the adjacent mouse breeding lab and Gamma Knife medical suite."
In all, 700 compute nodes were a total loss and ultimately "bagged and hauled out as toxic waste." The group was able to save its backup data, which comprised 200 terabytes of sequencing data.
The center's next-generation sequencing lab "was not directly damaged by the storm, but it is in a building that still has no power, AC, or running water, and the building is still undergoing assessment for asbestos cleanup and determination of what structural repairs will be needed (4 weeks after the storm)."
Brown says that other area labs — such as the New York Genome Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering — are generously helping the NYU researchers with their sequencing experiments. His team has moved its data storage to a facility in New Jersey and is "borrowing" computing power from the NYU Center for Genomics and Systems Biology as well as relying on the Amazon cloud.
"My challenge is trying to organize the flow of data from the labs back to the investigators," a process that is akin to "juggling elephants," he says.
Meanwhile, NIH Director Francis Collins reports on his blog that he and Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research, visited the stricken NYU labs last Friday and that the damage is "truly appalling."
Collins says that he and Rockey "promised to use all available tools" from NIH to help researchers affected by the storm, including "altering submission deadlines for grant applications, allowing researchers to negotiate new specific aims, and extending training periods for trainees whose research projects have been seriously affected."
He adds that NIH is planning to "issue an opportunity for NYU researchers who have lost precious equipment or supplies to apply for additional funding through Administrative Supplements."
Collins notes that the recovery process will be lengthy, but says that "there is no doubt from what we saw on Friday that the scientists at NYU are determined and resilien