The lives of many commuters and people in the city is shown in a brief montage - including struggling playwright Madelyne ‘Maddy’ Thompson (Amy Brenneman), whose professional as well as personal life is at an all time low; her love life is in shambles as her lover is a married man who isn’t able to sever ties with his wife. The men transporting the waste are ordered to travel through a tunnel under the Hudson River, as the bridge is jammed up to Westchester. Elsewhere in upstate New York, Roy Nord (Viggo Mortensen) a famous ad man and model for sport related commercials for the company Territory Beyond, is discussing strategies to maximize sales.
A truck ferrying prisoners also sets out to travel in the tunnel, and to add to the list of offenders is a gang of street robbers making their getaway in a black Cadillac after robbing a man of diamonds. Kit Latura has picked up his passengers and heads for the tunnel as well. The police catch wind of the chase, and are hot on the robbers trail, when the Cadillac spins out of control and crashes into the vehicle carrying the toxic waste, which is highly inflammable - chaos ensues as car upon car crashes.
The tunnel is now a powder keg and explodes - the fire spreads through the large concrete crevasse, destroying cars and damaging the entrance of the tunnel which caves in; the tunnel administrators advise Kit (one of whom is an acquaintance) that they have to plan their moves carefully. The ventilation system is kaput and now smoke starts to fill the tunnel, disrupting visibility and breathing, the New Jersey side of the tunnel has completely collapsed.
Kit tells the rescue workers that they have to blow the tunnel shut, this is the way based on a drill he was part of two years earlier; the only way they can control the fire and stop it from spreading is if part of the tunnel’s roof is deliberately blown up to seal the fire within. But the new Chief Dennis Wilson (Mark Rolston) of the EMS mocks Kit’s efforts to help, and would rather go mid river , where a service corridor exists.
Kit implores Frank Craft (Dan Hedaya) to tell Wilson otherwise; Frank is doubtful as he lost his brother on Kit’s watch the previous year. Meanwhile Nord comes to his senses and realizes he is trapped in the car, when he comes out, a group of people and Nord decide that the only way they can escape is if they use the service corridor mid-river. Kit tells them this isn’t a wise decision especially as the corridor may cave in; Nord moves on regardless and is killed. Does Kit manage to save the rest of the people, or what ?
Although critics trashed the disaster thriller Rob Cohen directed 1996 film, yet, it has managed to have quite a cult following worldwide and has been an audience favourite.