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2 homeless men found dead as NYC subway nears night closure

May 4, 2020 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — Two homeless men were found dead on New York City subway trains in a 12-hour period as transit officials prepared for an overnight shutdown of the system that has served as a de facto shelter.

The first body was found Friday night on a C train in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. The 56-year-old man was not identified.

Then on Saturday, 61-year-old Robert Mangual was pronounced dead on a No. 4 train in Brooklyn.

Their causes of death have not been determined, a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner’s office said Monday. One tested negative for the new coronavirus, and the other’s test was pending.

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On Monday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority provided details about how it will manage the overnight closure of the subways, a rare occurrence in the system’s 116-year history normally reserved for extreme weather events, blackouts and labor disputes.

All 472 stations will be closed between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. beginning Wednesday to allow for cleaning and disinfecting of subway cars and stations, officials said. About 350 buses will be added to transport essential workers during those hours, free of charge, MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said. Customers who must make more than two transfers or have a trip longer than about an hour and a half can register to get a one-way, for-hire car service at no cost.

The closures will remain in place for the duration of the pandemic, Foye said. He said the MTA would take guidance from state and federal officials on when to reopen.

“This was a very hard decision to make, but it’s unequivocally the right thing to do now,” Foye said.

Subway ridership has plunged more than 90 percent during the pandemic, and the system has had to confront increasing numbers of homeless people on trains. On one night last week, police and social service providers removed more than 100 people from the World Trade Center subway station in a targeted response.

MTA officials said Monday they are aware that replacing subway service with buses could just shift the problem.

“We are paying close attention to that because we don’t want to just move people from one place to another,” interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg said. “We probably don’t have the perfect solution at this moment, but there’s been a stepped-up effort on our end and at the NYPD to make sure there are shuttles and vans and buses available at end-of-line stations to take folks to intake shelters.”

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Ken Lovett, senior adviser to Foye, called the two men’s deaths “heartbreaking” and added, “We have repeatedly said the subways are no replacement for shelter and if these two individuals were indeed homeless, as suspected, it’s clear more needs to be done by the city to ensure all New Yorkers have access to needed shelter and services.”

The MTA will deploy about 500 cleaners to stations and train yards and will use traditional as well as non-traditional cleaning methods, such as ultraviolet light and anti-microbials, Foye said. He estimated the additional cleaning will eventually cost the MTA “hundreds of millions of dollars” that hopefully will be reimbursed by the federal government.