With tens of thousands of New Yorkers still without power following Tropical Storm Isaias’ walloping of New York City on Tuesday, Aug. 4, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency to help with clean-up and power restoration.
Trees, big and small, came crashing down across Queens on Tuesday, unable to stand tall in the face of a tropical storm that left more than 47,000 Con Edison customers in the borough without power. In all, the New York City Parks Department received over 9,000 reports of downed trees in the borough.
Tropical Storm Isaias swept through New York City on Tuesday, bringing down countless trees and branches across the city. Around 20,500 reports of tree damage citywide were made to the parks department by Wednesday morning.
Fallen trees blocked roadways, snagged power lines, crashed into cars and killed a man in Briarwood who was sitting in a vehicle when a tree landed on top of it.
Some streets saw extensive damage, including 36th Street between 30th Avenue and 31st Avenue in Astoria. Three large trees lay flat on the street after the storm, wrecking several parked cars.
On Manton Street and 139th Street in Briarwood — blocks from where a fallen tree killed a man — a massive tree fell, hitting several cars upon its landing.
“I came downstairs and just my car underneath the tree,” said Natalie Prisco, who lives on Manton Street. “I don’t think anybody got hurt, I just saw everyone staring at something and then I came out and saw the tree and I was like, ‘Oh, god, I hope it’s not my car,’ and it was my car.”
Syed Huda, Prisco’s boyfriend, came to visit Prisco after the storm and said the damage will cost her well over $1,000.
“When I drove in, I saw trees down everywhere,” Huda said.
By 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the storm had passed and the sun had come out in Astoria Park. Some local residents flocked to the park to assess the damage, while others came to enjoy the open space as if nothing had happened at all.
The bike path in the park was lined with branches and large sticks, forcing cyclist out of their designated space.
While the Parks Department said the work to clear branches and fallen trees is in progress, because of the high volume of requests, they can’t provide specific times as to when trees will be cleared.
“Due to the high volume of inspections and work currently in progress, we are not able to provide information on specific work. We are unable to provide timetables for individual non-emergency removals at this time,” a spokesperson for the department said. “Emergencies and impassible streets receive the highest priority. Debris will be addressed accordingly: high-traffic areas, including plazas, playgrounds, athletic facilities, etc., perimeter sidewalks, internal paths, lawns, then natural areas.”
With approximately 9,317 reports of downed trees, Queens had by far the most tree damage when compared with the other four boroughs. In Brooklyn, 5,761 reports were made; in Staten Island there were 2,151 reports made; in the Bronx, 2,148 reports were made; and in Manhattan there were 1,205 reports of tree damage, according to the Parks Department.
Left in the dark
Queens also experience more power outages than any other borough in the city, with over 45,000 Con Edison customers left without power by Wednesday afternoon. The storm brought with it the second most outages in the company’s history — only Hurricane Sandy caused more outages citywide.
Cambria Heights, Whitestone, Middle Village and Flushing all saw widespread outages, although customers throughout the borough were left without power after the storm.
More than 22,000 customers were left without power in the Bronx; over 20,000 customers were left without power in Staten Island; 8,000 customers were left without power in Brooklyn; and in Manhattan, where power lines are underground, 67 customers were without power Wednesday afternoon.
Governor Andrew Cuomo slammed the power provider for the massive outages and announced that his office has launched an investigation into how power companies operating across the state handled the storm, including Verizon, PSEG Long Island, Con Edison, Central Hudson Gas & Electric, Orange and Rockland Utilities, and New York State Electric & Gas.
“We know that severe weather is our new reality and the reckless disregard by utility companies to adequately plan for Tropical Storm Isaias left tens of thousands of customers in the dark, literally and figuratively. Their performance was unacceptable,” Cuomo said. “The large volume of outages and the utilities’ failure to communicate with customers in real time proves they did not live up to their legal obligations. The fact that many customers still do not know when their power will be restored makes it even more unacceptable. The worst of this situation was avoidable, and it cannot happen again.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 5, the governor declared a state of emergency throughout the state, to expedite the restoration of power.
The counties included in the declaration are the Bronx, Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties. Cuomo has also directed the New York National Guard to mobilize 50 soldiers with vehicles to assist Putnam County officials with storm response, cleanup missions and ice and water distribution.
“We’re taking an all-hands-on-deck approach and activating every resource at our disposal to expedite communities’ recovery from the impacts of Tropical Storm Isaias,” Governor Cuomo said. “The State is working closely with local governments to help ensure they have the help they need to get back on their feet. We’re far too familiar with severe weather, but New Yorkers show their true spirit in times of crisis and we’ll prove it once more.”
Councilman Robert Holden, whose district was hit hard by power outages, took to social media to share his frustration with Con Edison.
“Communication has been the most frustrating part of all of this,” Holden said. “We should not have to chase Con Ed for information during an emergency situation.”
Con Edison announced Wednesday that the work to restore power for the nearly 200,000 customers without power across the city will take days.
“It is a formidable task for the women and men of Con Edison who work under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. They have already spent the early part of the summer in the streets working through heat emergencies,” the company said in a statement. “Restoration will require clearing nearly 500 roads that are blocked by fallen trees. Con Edison must de-energize any wires entangled in those trees, untangle the wires and then work with municipal public works crews to remove the trees. More than 7,000 wires are down and each requires careful attention with the safety of the public and Con Edison workers being the priority.”
The power company announced Wednesday afternoon it would be distributing ice to customers in Queens without power.
Con Edison will distribute ice inside Forest Park at the George Seuffert Bandshell parking lot throughout the day Wednesday. A Con Edison representative will be available at the location to answer questions about power restoration until 7 p.m.
Additional reporting by Dean Moses.
Updated 5:45 p.m., on Aug. 5, 2020.