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Liberty's best-kept
By Troy B.

IN THE WORLD of statues, no other figure has reached super stellar status than the crowned, torch-carrying Liberty. She was buried in the cult classic the ''Planet of the Apes,'' was burned to the ground in ''ID4,'' and was beheaded by a tidal wave in ''Deep Impact.'' She's had a much-glorified face-lift, is the site of an annual marathon, and yes, even David Copperfield made her disappear once. She is, after all, New York's No. 1 tourist attraction. Lately, however, she's been concerned about the state of her city.

The city's best-kept secrets, according to Harry Granick (author, ''Underneath New York''), could be found underground; for example, the city's 656 miles of subway tracks that roar through 468 subway stations. There are 346 miles of tunnels and aqueducts: 6,000 miles of water pipes and 6,600 miles of gas lines; and, of course, 88,000 miles of electric cable required to power the city that never sleeps.

Subterranean wonders

But these subterranean wonders could easily become urban nightmares. When subway trains rattle a 120-year-old pipe constantly, the line would eventually break. A water-main at 5th Avenue and 19th Street did just that last year. The severing of a gas line formed a pillar of fire two stories high. Though New York has 103,700 fire hydrants, they pale in comparison to the prospect of a man-made volcano erupting in the middle of lunch hour.

The bombardment isn't just from below ground. Around 98 percent of goods are delivered within the city by truck, which translates to 30,000 extra trucks clogging traffic, polluting the air and generally causing roadways to buckle. This subjects the 65 bridges, 94 institutions of higher learning, 200 skyscrapers, 780 landmark buildings and 3,500 churches and synagogues all over the city to constant trembling.

A few months back, bricks belonging to 540 Madison Avenue peeled off the walls and fell dangerously into the sidewalk, causing panic. In another block, a woman was killed by wayward bricks. Bricks fell again on 62nd Street just last April. In the same month, a 500-pound section of the Yankee Stadium collapsed on empty seats, and some 13 people were injured when an elevator fell three floors. That last incident wasn't just a fluke. A week later, a man in another building fell 10 floors while inside an elevator. Suddenly, elevators and the city's 6,000 miles of sidewalks have become lawsuits waiting to happen. New York's sidewalks attract 10,000 pedestrians per hour.

City of rats

And people aren't the only ones using the sidewalks these days. A raccoon-sized rat shuffled up a midtown sidewalk recently, taking its sweet time. Somehow, it knew that nobody would dare go near it. Maybe it also knew that the human-to-rat ration New York is 1:1. It is a city of rats, after all. People are the subculture. Mark Lewis celebrated this uneasy truce between New Yorkers and rats in his documentary titled ''Rat,'' which showed that one of the most despised creatures lurking in one of the greatest cities could result in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Tell that to the cops and MTA workers screaming out of the subway after a sighting.

If the city gets too stressful, she does have an 843-acre playground called Central Park and some 1,600 parks, facsimiles of wide open space that occupy more than 26,000 acres so we can still avoid the sidewalks. Falling elevators and bricks merely state that whether it's all the way up or all the way down, New York is always moving. ''Something is always happening here,'' actress Myrna Loy once said. ''If you're bored in New York, it's your own fault.'' Now who would get bored dodging bricks?

As for those huge, furry rodents? Maybe Liberty showed too much of herself in movies like ''Ben'' and ''Willard.'' Maybe we attach too much of our own needless fears into these subterranean dwellers. Swiping the MetroCard correctly is still foremost in the minds of those who use the subways, not being attacked by rats born-and-raised in the city. Besides, Liberty has nothing to fear. Statistics from her Health Department claimed that in 1996, only 184 New Yorkers were bitten by rats. That same year, more than 1,100 New Yorkers were bitten by other New Yorkers.