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Storm damage keeps Manhattan bankruptcy court shuttered

By Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Bankruptcy Court in lower Manhattan, which sits in a historic former U.S. custom house, will be closed indefinitely in the wake of flooding and electrical outages from Hurricane Sandy, the court said on Monday.

Much of downtown Manhattan has returned to a semblance of normalcy after flooding and power failures following the storm, but there is no timetable for re-opening the bankruptcy court, said Stephanie Cirkovich, a public information officer for Manhattan's federal court system.

The courthouse basement flooded last week, according to a facilities update on the website of the U.S. General Services Administration, which owns the building. It also said there was no heat, phone or Internet connectivity in the building.

Water and sewage had been fully drained from the building as of mid-afternoon on Monday, Cirkovich said.

The bankruptcy court at One Bowling Green is housed in the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, an ornate Beaux-Arts-style building designed by architect Cass Gilbert at the beginning of the 1900s. As a custom house, it was the revenue collection point for the lower Manhattan port. The building stood vacant for much of the 1970s before undergoing major renovations. The bankruptcy court moved into the structure in 1987.

The National Museum of the American Indian, which shares the building with the bankruptcy court, had power on Monday, but no steam, heat, or telephone service, museum spokeswoman Eileen Maxwell said.

By court order, judges are allowed to move hearings to the White Plains and Poughkeepsie branches of the bankruptcy court while the Manhattan courthouse is down. Parties that cannot get to those locations can participate in hearings by telephone.

Some bankruptcy hearings were postponed. Others were being moved to federal district court in Manhattan, which re-opened on Monday, Cirkovich said.

(Reporting By Nick Brown; Editing by Martha Graybow and Maureen Bavdek)

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