It was a twister. Actually, it was two tornadoes and a macroburst that packed winds of up to 125 miles per hour (mph), toppled thousands of trees, downed power and cable TV lines, and snarled traffic and mass transit for hours as they caused widespread damage throughout the borough that residents are still trying to clean up nearly one week later.
The severe storm, which National Weather Service representatives officially declared as an EF-0 tornado packing winds of 80 mph in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and an EF-1 tornado that tore through parts of Flushing and Bayside with winds up to 100 mph, hit Queens shortly after 5:30 on Thursday night, September 16 – as tens of thousands of commuters were making their way home from work.
However, the most severe storm struck parts of Middle Village and Forest Hills as National Weather Service officials said a macroburst with winds up to 125 mph caused devastating damage in the central and western Queens neighborhoods.
The storm was responsible for at least one death as 30-year-old Pennsylvania resident Aline Levakis was killed when a tree fell on her car while she was driving on the Grand Central Parkway.
“On behalf of all our residents, we express our sympathy to her family and friends,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.
While the storm only took a few minutes to whip through the borough, the violent winds toppled thousands of trees and knocked down power lines throughout the city. Queens legislators are calling on the Governor to declare parts of Queens a disaster area so they could get state aid to help in the cleanup.
In order to receive federal aid, New York State would need to surpass $25 million in damages, so legislators are urging residents and businesses who experienced losses to report them to 3-1-1. Federal officials were scheduled to tour the area again on Wednesday, September 22, but there has been no final decision on federal funds.
System-wide about 45,000 customers lost power from the storm with approximately 37,000 of those customers coming from Queens, according to Chris Olert, a spokesperson for Con Ed. By Sunday evening, September 19, Con Ed had restored power to nearly all of the customers who had lost it during the storm.
“Recovering from tornadoes is something you’d expect to do in Kansas, not New York City,” said Craig S. Ivey, the president of Con Edison. “But we mobilized quickly, requested aid from other utilities and put hundreds of crews in the streets around the clock. We thank our crews, our fellow utilities and city agencies for their great work, as well as our customers for their patience.”
More than 3,000 calls came in citywide to report downed trees with 2,500 coming from Queens residents, according to Trish Bertuccio, a Parks spokesperson. Bertuccio said the tree cleanup is expected to take at least another month.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was in Queens and toured parts of the borough immediately after the storm hit, said on Tuesday, September 21 that the city is cleaning up things as fast as it can, and he has no plans to relax any regulations on tree cleanup.
“We want to make sure that we do it safely, so we have professionals come in, rather than amateurs, to cut down the tree that could fall on somebody,” Bloomberg said. “We don’t want to lose another life; no tree is that important, no getting a car free is that important. And between the Parks Department and the DEP and fire and police they’re doing this job as fast as they can.”
The storm shut down Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) service into and out of Penn Station on Thursday night, but by Friday morning all service had been restored, according to MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz.
The day after the storm, residents were still reeling, recounting the disaster they saw on Thursday.
Theresa Gordon, who was inside her home on 204th Street just off of Northern Boulevard when the storm hit, said sparks were coming out of the electrical sockets inside the house and power lines were immediately thrown to the ground outside of her home.
“I passed out,” she said. “The Fire Department came, and they said I got zapped.”
Her mother, Donna Gordon, said her family has been living in the house for nearly 20 years and said she has never seen anything like this wicked weather.
“It was terrible,” said Donna, who had called Con Ed on Friday morning and was told that it could take three to five days to send a crew out to her house. “All of my food in the refrigerator is going to go bad.”
Other residents like Nicole Romanelli had to deal with cars that were crushed by falling trees. Romanelli saw her Jeep Wrangler that was parked on 36th Avenue in Bayside get smashed when a large tree across the street came down.
“I heard it all happen around 6 p.m. and ran into the bathroom,” Romanelli said. “I’m just glad I wasn’t in the car. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”
Other Bayside residents like Daisy Brito, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years, said that she has never seen a storm this bad. The roof above her outside door and the steps leading up to it collapsed after a tree fell on it. Brito said they called their insurance company about the damage and now just had to wait for a call back.
“It’s overwhelming,” Brito said of seeing the damage on her 214th Place block. “It seems like every…house is hit.”
With additional reporting by Bob Doda, Jessica Lyons and Steve Mosco