‘War zone’ in storm’s wake

‘War zone’ in storm’s wake
Bayside’s 39th Avenue and Corporal Kennedy Street were left strewn with trees following last week’s tornado. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Timesledger Staff

A fierce tornado’s path through Queens last week may have been brief, but the storm left some communities in northeast and western Queens devastated as more than 1,000 trees crashed onto borough streets and tens of thousands of residents were left without power.

The storm also claimed the life of Aline Levakis, a 30-year-old woman from Mechanicsburg, Pa., whose car was struck by a tree on the side of the Grand Central Parkway near Jewel Avenue around 6:50 p.m., police said.

Queens residents said they watched in horror as the tornado plowed through their neighborhoods, leaving trees strewn across lawns and streets and on houses.

“This literally happened in 30 seconds,” said Bayside resident Frank Fanuko, as he watched crews clean dozens of trees that had crashed in the middle of 213th Street. “I saw trees ripped up from their roots.”

But the Bayside resident had some cause for celebration. His newborn son, now nicknamed Daniel “Tornado” Fanuko, was brought home from the hospital shortly before the storm.

The tornado struck Queens last Thursday around 5:20 p.m., turning the sky black but only lasting several minutes. Winds reached up to 125 mph, causing millions of dollars in damage in Bayside, Forest Hills, Flushing, Middle Village, Maspeth and Rego Park, the National Weather Service said.

A separate tornado hit sections of Brooklyn just moments before, while sections of Staten Island were also buffeted by the storm.

Residents across the borough struggled through power outages throughout the weekend.

A spokeswoman for Con Edison said as many as 45,000 people across the five boroughs lost power during the storm and that a majority of them were from Queens. But the utility had restored power to 90 percent of the homes by Saturday and the rest on Sunday.

Borough President Helen Marshall met with representatives from the city Parks Department, city Office of Emergency Management, city Department of Buildings and city Fire Department as well as Con Ed Tuesday morning to discuss the continued storm cleanup.

The agencies said more than 1,000 trees had landed on the borough’s streets or crashed into homes or onto cars during the tornado.

Dorothy Lewandowski, Queens commissioner for the Parks Department, said a total of 47 streets across four community boards were still blocked by trees Tuesday. She predicted another three to four weeks until the trees had all been removed.

As many as 575 people worked to remove trees across the borough since Thursday, according to the Office of Emergency Management.

Ira Gluckman, DOB’s Queens commissioner, said 94 homes in Queens had been vacated as of Monday night and that 24 of the houses had structural damage.

Five of the homes, all of which are in northeast Queens, are expected to be demolished, Gluckman said.

Flights at the borough’s two airports — LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International — were delayed for several hours following the storm, while traffic slowed to a crawl along its highways and streets.

“It was unbelievable,” said Barbara Bennett, who lives on 108th Street in Forest Hills. “108th Street was a parking lot until 12 o’clock at night.”

Resident Ryan Sumner spent six hours trying to get from the Queensboro Bridge to Forest Hills.

“You really think of the name Forest Hills when you see all these downed trees,” Sumner said.

Douglaston resident Mario Dottavio said he was forced to move a large branch from the middle of 249th Street to the side of the street Friday.

“I pushed it all the way over to the side,” he said. “I’m a 70-year-old man. There are a lot of branches that came down in the neighborhood.”

Bobby Puzino of Middle Village said the storm left an enormous mess of traffic and trees in its wake.

“The traffic coming through here was unbearable,” he said. “Some people ran out of gas, abandoned their cars and walked home. Five or six big elm trees were down on every street.”

The Long Island Expressway was completely shut down for part of Thursday night and what was normally a 10-minute trip on the Grand Central Parkway became a two-hour venture because of downed trees on the highway.

One house on Francis Lewis Boulevard and 45th Avenue in Flushing was struck by three trees, one of which ripped off the left side of the home. And the towering wooden spire of the iconic St. George’s Church on Flushing’s Main Street was blown off the 308-year-old landmarked building, causing as much as $300,000 in damage.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said it would cost millions of dollars solely to repair the damage done in MacDonald Park in Forest Hills.

Some Queens elected officials worked late into the night Friday to clean up the mess. City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said northeast Queens was left “looking like a war zone,” while former Councilman Tony Avella called on Gov. David Paterson to declare the areas struck by the tornado an “emergency zone.”

Nathan Duke, Anna Gustafson, Rebecca Henely, Ivan Pereira and Christina Santucci contributed to this story.

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