Historic Storm Decimates NYC, Northeast U.S.
Unlike any weather event to visit New York City in its history, the hybrid storm known as Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc locally during her extended stay between late Sunday, Oct. 28, and Tuesday, Oct. 30, paralyzing the city with unprecedented destruction from her heavy winds and record-setting storm surges that will take weeks to fully remedy.
Days before her arrival, New Yorkers and government agencies alike braced themselves for the predicted onslaught. Schools and public venues were closed, the entire public transportation system was shut down and evacuations were ordered in the low-lying areas of the city.
Even with those preparations, based largely on what was thought to be the worst case scenario, the city sustained an incredible amount of damage, as the storm proved stronger than anticipated.
Thousands of residents in the Times Newsweekly coverage area were mostly affected by power outages resulting from utility lines which were downed by the wind or fallen trees. Homes, streets and sidewalks were also damaged from trees young and old which were either tipped over or split in half from the force of the storm.
In these neighborhoods, the recovery has already begun, as firefighters, volunteers and local residents worked together to remove fallen limbs. Con Edison crews are also in the process of restoring power.
As of press time, while thousands in the area have had their power restored, many remain in the dark; it may take several more days before all other customers in the area are brought back online.
Even so, those damages were minor in comparison to the carnage experienced by low-lying communities. Each of these areas were drenched by a record storm surge that came ashore Monday night, flooding out homes and businesses.
Breezy Point was the epicenter of the storm’s damage in New York City. Not only were homes severely damaged by the storm surge, but as many as 100 homes in the neighborhood at the eastern tip of the Rockaway Peninsula were burned to the ground by a six-alarm blaze that broke out on Monday night. Firefighters rushed to the scene but could do little to stop the inferno due to high winds and low water pressure. No fatalities or injuries were reported.
Among those who lost homes in the Breezy Point blaze were Rep. Bob Turner of the Ninth Congressional District and Michael Long, chairperson of the state Conservative Party.
The storm surge in Manhattan also flooded out many of the subway tunnels below the East River connecting the island with Brooklyn and Queens. As MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota said in a statement on Tuesday morning: “The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced [Monday] night.”
Buses were back on their routes on Tuesday afternoon, starting out with limited service. Full bus service was restored by the Wednesday morning rush hour but many were packed with riders who used them as an alternate route to the still-disabled subway system.
Limited subway service was restored on Thursday, Nov. 1, but it may take several more days for the entire subway system to be active once again, as workers continue to repair tunnels and mechanisms dam- aged by the flood. (See story on Page 6 for further details.)
Damages from the storm were estimated to cost more than $20 billion, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in American history. President Barack Obama already declared New York State as a major disaster area, making residents, businesses and governments eligible to receive financial assistance.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested that the federal government fund 100 percent of the recovery and reconstruction efforts in New York State.
As with any tragedy, the people of New York are coming together to help those most devastated by the storm, whether it’s by collecting clothes or money or by offering free wireless Internet service. For more details on how you can help, see the story on Page 23.
The calm before Sandy
One week ago, Hurricane Sandy was churning up trouble in the Caribbean, bringing its damaging winds, heavy surf and torrential rain to parts of Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas and southern Florida. But even with the storm more than a thousand miles away from New York City, forecasters predicted that the ingredients were coming into place for Sandy to become a destructive “perfect storm” targeting the northeastern U.S.
That term was initially coined for an unnamed, post-tropical cyclone back in October 1991 which formed out of the remains of a hurricane and caused billions of dollars in damage to Long Island, New England and Maritime Canada.
This new “perfect storm” came together roughly 21 years later as Hurricane Sandy climbed northward along the Eastern Seaboard. By last Friday, Oct. 26, forecasters predicted that the storm would evolve into something like a strong nor’easter, pulled by a jet stream toward the northeastern coast of the U.S.
In the hours before the storm’s arrival, New York City and State— along with local residents —scrambled to prepare.
Flashlights, batteries and other essential items needed to ride out the storm were flying off the shelves at stores in Brooklyn and Queens, including the Target in Elmhurst and The Home Depot in Glendale. At the Key Food near the Big Six Towers complex in Woodside, residents passed up Halloween candy in favor of staples such as fresh bread and water.
A cashier at the Queens Place Tar- get in Elmhurst stated on Saturday that the store was busier than usual, as residents hurried to purchase supplies. “It feels like a holiday today,” he said.
While many businesses closed during the storm, others decided to brave the weather and remain open. The Laughing Devil Comedy Club in Long Island City sent an email to subscribers to its newsletter Sunday night letting customers know they were open for business.
Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard to be ready to provide relief following the storm. On Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the mandatory evacuation of the low-lying areas of the city classified as “Zone A” in the Office of Emergency Management’s Hurricane Evacuation Map.
Local neighborhoods in Zone A include parts of Greenpoint, Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, the Rockaways and the Hunters Point section of Long Island City. Despite the evacuation order, it was reported, many residents opted to stay behind. Those who did leave found shelter with families or friends, or visited one of the 76 emergency shelters opened by the city. The emergency shelters included Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Bryant High School in Long Island City and Forest Hills High School. Pets were welcome to accompany their owners.
With all signs indicating that this “perfect storm” of the 21st century was going to make landfall in the Northeast, New York City was virtually shut down for Monday.
The MTA, at the order of Governor Cuomo, stopped all bus and subway service, as well as service on Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, as of 7 p.m. Sunday night. Trains normally stored in low-lying areas were moved to higher ground out of fear of flooding.
New York City public schools were closed from Monday through Tuesday; they were subsequently closed for the rest of the week. Private and parochial schools also closed Monday and Tuesday; some elected to open later in the week. All three public library systems—Brooklyn, Queens and New York—were also closed on Monday as a precaution. Various events and meetings scheduled for Monday were also postponed as Sandy neared. The New York Stock Exchange, the world’s largest trading market, was also shut down Monday and Tuesday.
The city’s parks and marinas also closed at 5 p.m. Sunday. At 2 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29, the Holland Tunnel and Hugh Carey-Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel also closed; the Queens Midtown Tunnel would also close later that night.
The MTA later ordered the Cross Bay Bridge closed due to high winds; later, Cuomo ordered the closure of the Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Verrazano Narrows, Henry Hudson, Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial and George Washington bridges by 7 p.m. Mayor Bloomberg would then order the city’s four East River crossings— the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Ed Koch-Queensboro bridges—to close by 7 p.m. as well.
The RFK (Triborough) Bridge was then closed at 7:30 p.m. after a gust of over 100 mph was reported.
Her destructive arrival
The storm called Sandy finally made landfall in Atlantic City, N.J. on Monday night; although its center was located 120 miles south, it brought devastation to New York City, Long Island and the Jersey Shore.
The brunt of the storm sent gusts of over 90 mph throughout the city, ripping down power lines and tree limbs and created a wall of water that set new records of destruction upon the low-lying areas of the five boroughs, specifically the Rockaways and lower Manhattan.
But the most damaging aspect of Sandy was a storm surge of well over 12 feet, flooding streets in the heart of the Financial District. By Monday morning, storm surges led to flooded streets in the Rockaways as well as in Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City and at LaGuardia Airport.
City Council Member Eric Ulrich noted via Twitter that “Broad Channel has been destroyed.”
The storm surge left the Brooklyn Battery and Queens-Midtown tunnels both flooded with several feet of water. Flooding was also reported in seven subway tunnels below the East River; six bus garages were also waterlogged.
The mayor reported that Queens experienced 10 times the normal call volume to 911.
Con Edison announced at about 4 p.m. that it was considering a preemptive shutdown of power in lowlying areas of the city. “Shutting down underground equipment may avoid extensive damage to company and customer equipment, and allow company crews to restore power to customers more quickly,” the agency said in a post to its Facebook page.
That pre-emption took place at 7 p.m. in lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. However, most of Manhattan below 34th Street lost power after a malfunction at a nearby transformer. By midnight, over 660,964 customers throughout Con Edison’s service area (New York City and Westchester) were without power, including 73,000 in Queens.
Among the locations which were indicated on Con Edison’s Storm Central outage map as having lost power were the following:
• the vicinity of Pleasantview Street and Penelope Avenue in Middle Village, with more than 650 customers affected;
• the area of 78th Street and Furmanville Avenue in Middle Village, with over 350 customers left in the dark;
• the area of 24th Avenue and 94th Street in East Elmhurst, with more than 850 customers affected;
• the vicinity of Linden Boulevard and 126th Street in South Ozone Park, with over 1,200 customers left in the dark;
• the area of 21st Street and 50th Avenue in Long Island City, knocking out power to more than 360 customers;
• the vicinity of 63rd Drive and 54th Avenue in Maspeth, with over 350 customers affected;
• the area of 83rd Street and 57th Avenue in Elmhurst, with more than 870 customers in the dark;
• the vicinity of Eliot Avenue and 66th Street on the Maspeth/Middle Village border, with over 500 customers out;
• the intersection of 107th Avenue and 112th Street in Richmond Hill, with more than 100 customers in the dark;
• the area of 80th Street and Sutter Avenue in Ozone Park, with over 500 customers out of power; and
• the vicinity of 79th Street and 159th Avenue in Howard Beach, with over 300 customers out of service.
A total of 37 fatalities throughout the city have been recorded as of press time.
As of Thursday morning, Con Edison crews have restored electricity to more than 225,000 customers in its coverage area.
“The hurricane is the worst natural disaster to strike Con Edison’s customers, the agency said in a statement.
As of 4:30 a.m. Thursday, the company had reportedly approximately 676,000 customers out of service, including 103,000 in Queens.
On Thursday afternoon, a check of Con Edison’s online outage map indicated that thousands of customers remained in the dark in areas of Middle Village, Maspeth, Elmhurst, Woodhaven, Ozone Park and South Ozone Park, among other areas scattered throughout the borough.
According to the Mayor’s Office, restoring power to neighborhoods serviced by overhead lines may take well into next week.
New York City’s public schools were set to reopen on Monday, Nov. 5. CUNY colleges reopened on Friday, Nov. 2. Parks were also set to reopen Friday, while beaches and marinas remain closed. Most Queens Library branches are to reopen Friday.
Public officials are also attempting to address a lack of gasoline in the area, the lack of mass transit and a need for gas to power generators combined with an inability to bring petroleum shipments into the area have led to a shortage.
To alleviate the situation, Sen. Charles Schumer announced Thursday that the Port of New York was re- opening for tankers carrying fuel, after reaching out to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The aftermath locally
Aside from fallen trees and power outages, the 104th Precinct area— which is comprised of Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village— fared well during and after the storm, according to Deputy Inspector Michael Cody, the force’s commanding officer. He stated that there were no reported fatalities related to storm damage.
Officers from the precinct were scattered throughout the area to seal off roadways which were clogged with debris or lined with fallen live wires. Additional officers were dispatched to other parts of the city to provide relief where needed.
Since the NYPD required additional officers from all over the city to patrol severely damaged locations, the department was forced to cancel Halloween parades in Glendale, Maspeth and Forest Hills on Wednesday, as well as the Queens Veterans Day Parade in Middle Village originally scheduled for this Sunday.
Two deaths in the Times Newsweekly coverage area were reported. The first death from the storm was reported late Monday night. Members of the 109th Precinct responded to a 911 call at about 7 p.m. at 166th Street near Lithonia Avenue in Flushing. Upon arrival, police found 30-year-old Anthony Laino pinned underneath a tree that crashed through a house. He was pronounced dead on the scene by emergency services personnel.
Then at about 8:30 p.m., 23-yearold Lauren Abraham of 134th Street in South Richmond Hill stepped on a live electrical wire in front of her home. Officers from the 106th Precinct responded to the incident, but Abraham was pronounced dead at the scene.
In addition, news reports stated that 24-year-old Jessie Streich-Kest, a teacher at the Bushwick School for Social Justice, was killed along with her friend, 23-year-old Jacob Vogelman, when a tree fatally struck them as they were walking a dog in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn Monday night.
When the sun rose on Tuesday morning, Queens residents found fallen trees and wires, damaged cars and homes—and the resolve to start the cleanup process immediately.
In Glendale, members of the 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol joined the Glendale and Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps in working to clear large trees that were found blocking roadways such as Myrtle Avenue and the Jackie Robinson Parkway.
“We had at least a dozen guys out,” said Vincent Arcuri, chairperson of Community Board 5 and founding member of 104COP. He told the Times Newsweekly that the crews were so busy that they burned out three chainsaws used to cut up fallen trees and large limbs.
Expounding on the tree removal efforts was 104COP President Frank Kotnik, who noted that volunteers were busy “opening up the arteries” around Glendale and other neighborhoods within the 104th Precinct’s confines on Tuesday morning.
“We were very fortunate over here,” Kotnik said. “I know of people in the Rockaways who lost their house.” He went on to note that the civilian patrol is in need of funding and extra volunteers to assist with future emergencies.
“There was no flooding so to speak, as there wasn’t a lot of rain,” Arcuri added. He gave kudos to the city’s Sanitation Department for sending out trucks to pick up tree debris and sending street sweepers to remove leaves and small twigs.
During a drive around the area, Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano reported that he observed several fallen trees at homes on Doran Avenue and 88th Street in the eastern section of Glendale.
“It’s like the tree fell in a way that the arms are hugging the house,” Giordano said of the fallen tree on 88th Street. “On the other side, the tree fell right on the awning of the house. It could have been a lot worse.”
Throughout his survey of Glendale and Middle Village, the district manager noted that he reported 14 fallen trees to the city’s 311 hotline. In all, he observed that the storm did not seem to impact the Board 5 area as hard as the September 2010 macroburst.
“At the same time, the effect that this hurricane had on the public transportation system seems to be the most damaging,” he added, “as well as how many people had power outages.”
Turning to Ridgewood, many businesses on Myrtle Avenue which were shut down on Monday began reopening the following day, according to Theodore Renz, president of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District (BID). He estimated that 60 percent of shops along the strip between Fresh Pond Road and Wyckoff Avenue opened for business on Tuesday, and nearly all of them were up and running on Halloween.
“Our BID crew was out on Monday and Tuesday, but were back working today to clean up the avenue,” Renz added. “Things are getting back to normal on Myrtle Avenue. We were lucky that we suffered minimal damage.”
As with many storms, parts of Middle Village and Maspeth were throw in in the dark as a result of fallen utility lines, according to Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. The wires were brought down either by the wind alone or by trees and limbs which had fallen due to the high gusts.
Juniper Valley Park fared relatively well during the storm, losing only eight trees, Holden added. But the major problem for the neighborhood immediately after the storm were a number of street trees which fell and block area roadways.
“Almost every street lost something,” he told this newspaper in a phone interview. The civic president estimated that about one-third of the large trees in Middle Village had been felled by Sandy and the macroburst which hit the community in September 2010.
Some residents had near misses with fallen trees, according to Holden. One large tree fell atop a house on 75th Street in Maspeth, while another tree crushed a car belonging to a woman on Pleasantview Street in Middle Village.
Community residents and volunteers worked with first responders to help chop up and remove large trees that had fallen around both Maspeth and Middle Village. Sanitation personnel were also out in full force to remove debris, Holden added.
“We got a great community and great communication” with local elected officials and police throughout the crisis, he observed.
Regarding power outages around Maspeth and Middle Village, City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has been in contact with the authority and pressing them for a quick restoration of service in the area, according to Eric Yun, a spokesperson for the legislator.
“We’re reporting every power outage we get to Con Edison and pushing on them to restore power as soon as possible around the area,” Yun said on Wednesday. “Con Edison is stretched very thin. There will be some delays, but we are very hopeful they can get power back as soon as possible.”
Crowley added in a statement to the Times Newsweekly that she is “very grateful for all the first responders, emergency crews and volunteers who are working hard to clear our streets and keep city residents safe,” adding that her office would “continue to work with the appropriate city agencies to clean up, restore power and rebuild.”
During the storm, a resident of Dry Harbor Road in Middle Village was injured after a tree fell into his house on Monday, according to police. The resident was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital Center and was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Fallen wires and trees also comprised of the bulk of damage in and around Forest Hills, according to Barbara Stuchinski, president of the Forest Hills Community and Civic Association. She told the Times Newsweekly of two particularly dangerous trouble spots in the neighborhood.
One location was the intersection of Juno Street and 70th Avenue, where lines connecting Our Lady of Mercy Church rectory with the power grid were knocked down. The situation was far more serious on 70th Avenue between Metropolitan Avenue and Sybilla Street, where live wires were hanging along with fallen trees in the middle of the road.
“One side of the street has electricity, the other side doesn’t,” Stuchinski, who is also on the Forest Hills/Rego Park Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), told the Times Newsweekly on Wednesday. She also noted that a resident on the street is on “life support.” While that resident still has power, the fallen wires and limbs make it impossible for vehicles to reach that individual’s home in the event of an emergency, she added.
“That street is just a disaster waiting to happen,” the civic president added. She noted that some of the wires were observed “sparking and cracking” during rains before the full brunt of the storm struck the area. “We’ve got to try and figure it out.”
Aside from those areas, volunteers and workers have been cutting up and removing fallen trees wherever possible. The Parks Department assisted them by picking up some of the larger pieces.
“Ironically, because of the macroburst and then Hurricane Irene, that took down most of the older trees,” Stuchinski added. “It seems silly, but that’s what saved us from more damage this time.”
Heidi Harrison Chain, who sits on Board 6 as well as the Forest Hills/Rego Park CERT, also noted that the team is cooperating with the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit and the office of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi to locate areas where trees are down. CERT team volunteers also pitched in at two area shelters— Forest Hills High School and P.S. 175.
City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer told the Times Newsweekly that several hundred residents on the Long Island City area still lacked power as of Tuesday afternoon, and that restoring power to those homes was a priority.
According to the lawmaker, Center and Vernon boulevards experienced “catastrophic flooding” from Sandy. In addition, trees were downed in Sunnyside Gardens and the Woodside Houses development. Van Bramer noted that Andrews Grove Park at 49th Avenue and Vernon Boulevard, which was nicknamed “Shady Park” by local residents, had “all of its beautiful, decades-old trees” destroyed by Sandy.
He went out on Tuesday to local businesses handing out Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) applications for disaster assistance, noting that many businesses in the area suffered “tens of thousands of dollars” in damages to equipment and furniture.
Merchants have “poured their lives into these businesses,” he stated.
Like many landlocked Queens communities in the Times Newsweekly coverage area, Woodhaven weathered the storm rather well, but not without some damage to some places of interest.
The Forest Park Carousel took a hit during Sandy, as a large tree branch toppled onto part of the roof. The merry-go-round itself, which reopened earlier this year and had closed for the season, was in good shape, according to Alexander Blenkinsopp of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA). The roof will be repaired and the carousel reopened in time for next season.
Woodhaven also lost a pine tree which served in recent years as the neighborhood’s Christmas tree. Maria Thomson, executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation, noted that she originally planted the tree 27 years ago, and it was disappointing to see it uprooted by the storm.
“There are a lot of other problems that are worse, but it hurt,” she said, adding that the GWDC plans to hold their annual Christmas tree and Menorah lighting on Dec. 7 at a location to be determined in the weeks to come.
Assemblyman Mike Miller also reported that some residential blocks around Woodhaven lost power as a result of fallen wires. He noted that on 92nd Street in Woodhaven, a large tree brought down power lines as well as two utility poles, causing a potentially life-threatening obstruction.
“We’re trying to get the street cleared” quickly, Miller told the Times Newsweekly on Wednesday, adding that a resident on the block was forced to hire an ambulance to take her daughter for kidney dialysis.
“The wires are live. We’ve been trying to get Con Edison to come down and at least cap them,” he added. He added that on that same block, he and other residents successfully stopped a man delivering meals to a senior as he unknowingly approached live wires on the street.
Barbara Smith, the president of the 83rd Precinct Community Council and a member of Brooklyn Community Board 4, stated in a Monday, Oct. 30 phone interview with the Times Newsweekly that the area fared relatively well in the storm.
Trees were downed at Maria Hernandez and Irving Square parks, according to Smith; she noted that at Maria Hernandez Park, trees that were planted after Hurricane Irene “don’t have good roots yet,” making them easier to uproot.
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