Sunday, September 19, 2010

Deadly Storm's After-Math

Aline Levakis,  30,  of Mechanicsburg,  Pa.,  and her husband,  Bill,  in an undated vacation photo. Mrs. Levakis was killed when a 100-foot willow tree crashed into thier car after she had pulled to the side of the Grand Central Parkway near Jewel Avenue in Queens during the storm.

Officials estimate thousands of trees were destroyed; Dozens of buildings and houses were severely damaged;  45 thousand people lost electricity and tens of thousands of commuters were inconvenienced.  Meteorologists said the storm on Thursday night included two tornadoes and a macroburst, a wind phenomenon which reached gusts as high as 125 mph.

Brooklyn - Queens - Staten Island

The fast-moving storm that ripped through Brooklyn and Queens leaving a wide swath of destruction Thursday spawned two tornados and a macroburst that carried winds of up to 125 mph, officials said last night, according to the New York Daily News.

The twisters were part of a fierce storm that barreled along a 14-mile path across Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, wrecking a staggering 1,500 trees, snarling traffic and knocking out power for thousands, the National Weather Service said.

About 14,500 still had no electricity last night.

"We're not out in tornado alley, but the conditions were right for these storms," said Gary Conte of the NWS.

The first funnel cloud - about 75-yards wide - touched down near Park Slope, Conte said.

The 80-mph whirlwinds peeled roofs off a half-dozen 19th-century Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstones like they were sardine tins and damaged 100 trees in Prospect Park alone.

Pennsylvania woman was killed by a 100-foot willow tree that was toppled by the 100-mph winds of a second tornado, which hit just south of Flushing and plowed through 4 miles of streets.

An NWS meteorologist said it was incredible that only one person perished in the wild weather.

"It's practically a miracle considering the population that was affected by this," Kyle Struckmann told the Associated Press.

A man, known only as Mario, surveys the damage from a fallen tree. As the tornado outside raged, Mario had just gotten out of his car to repair a washing machine when the tree smashed his Mitsubishi.
A man, known only as Mario, surveys the damage from a fallen tree. As the tornado outside raged, Mario had just gotten out of his car to repair a washing machine when the tree smashed his Mitsubishi.

Buildings and houses were severely damaged, thousands of customers lost electricity and many commuters were inconvenienced.

But destroyed were thousands of trees — trees torn out of sidewalks, others flung 30 or 40 feet through the air, still others shorn of branches, cracked in two, according to an account in the New York Times.

On Friday, as the city plowed ahead in the painstaking process of cleaning up the wreckage and repairing damage, it was still too early to tabulate a reliable tree death count.

The city has over 100 species and more than five million trees, some as old as 250. Clearly the loss was great.

Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, estimated that as many as 2,000 of the 650,000 street trees had been killed or else so crippled that they would have to be cut down.

Mr. Benepe said hundreds of the two million trees in the parks were killed or damaged beyond hope. Hundreds more lost limbs.

The storm wiped out a dozen or so willow trees lining Willow Lake and Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. Some of them fell into the lakes.

Juniper Valley Park - (Photo:  Robert Holden/ Juniper Park Civic Association)  

On the blocks around Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village, Queens, hundreds of elderly elms, oaks and maples succumbed. Youngsters — 7 to 10 years old — were yanked out like matchsticks and whipped through the area.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, walked around the bruised neighborhood on Friday snapping pictures of fallen timber.

One majestic tree, regarded as the neighborhood’s treasure, was an immense scarlet oak in the Pullis Farm Cemetery, an early American farm family burial ground. It was believed to be more than 110 years old. It was a beauty, just about perfectly symmetrical.

“When you touched the tree, you felt like you were touching a part of the 19th century,” Mr. Holden said.

The storm tore it down, ending its long life in a blink.

“This hit me the hardest,” Mr. Holden said. “Some people said can we pick it up and put it back? But you can’t.”

Middle Village  - (Photo:  Robert Holden/ Juniper Park Civic Association)  

A team of investigators from the National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado rated at EF0, or the weakest on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, sliced a two-mile path through Park Slope with 80 mph winds beginning at 5:33 p.m, according to the New York Post. 

About 10 minutes later, a more powerful tornado with 100 mph winds cut a swath of destruction four miles long through parts of Flushing, Bayside and Forest Hills, Queens. That storm felled a massive tree that crushed a Pennsylvania woman on the Grand Central Parkway as she sat in her car on the side of the road in Forest Hills hoping to wait out the worst.

The strongest event was a rare "macroburst" -- intense downdrafts wider than 2½ miles -- that lashed Forest Hills and Middle Village, with 125 mph winds at 5:40 p.m. The howling gusts left a path of devastation five miles wide and eight miles long.

"We were extremely fortunate that there were no more fatalities and extremely fortunate that there were no serious injuries," said Gary Conte, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, which looked at computer data, interviewed witnesses and had investigators fly over the city yesterday to make its tornado determination.

As of last night, Con Ed still had 15,621 customers without power in Queens while 186 had no power on Staten Island. To help people preserve frozen food, the utility distributed dry ice at Cunningham Park in Queens last night.

The storm left backyard furniture tossed in the air and decks ripped apart in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

The grief-stricken husband of the monster storm's lone fatal victim was worried when his wife pulled their car over beneath a massive tree -- but a fierce tornado sent it crashing to earth before he could get her to pull forward, according to the New York Post. 

"It was too late," said victim Aline Levakis' stepson, Steven, whose dad was inconsolable yesterday.

Aline was freaked out by the ominous black skies Thursday evening and was too scared to keep driving their Lexus sedan along a stretch of the Grand Central Parkway in Forest Hills, Queens, so she pulled over.

Moments later, a tornado with 100 mph winds ripped through the area, sending the hulking tree crashing down onto their car.

GRIEF: Grand Central Parkway victim Aline Levakis, 30, was the family 'glue' for hubby Billy, 60.
GRIEF: Grand Central Parkway victim Aline Levakis, 30, was the family "glue" for hubby Billy, 60.

"The tree just fell over, and it just hit her," said Steven.

Her husband, Billy, "was holding her hand, saying, 'Lina! Lina!' " he said.

Aline, 30, was declared dead at the scene.

She was "the best thing that happened to me," Billy, 60, told his family after the fatal accident.

Staten Island

Massive trees lying across the streets, their limbs scattered in random whirlwind patterns; wind-severed branches leaning on wires; draped over cars and hanging by sinews, threatening to plummet to the ground: The destruction from yesterday evening's eerily quick and ferocious storm today was concentrated in two pockets on Staten Island where the fiercest gusts touched down -- one in the North Shore and another in Tottenville, according to the Staten Island Advance.

"This was a very serious storm, and fairly narrow, it just cut a swath of destruction through three boroughs," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who made the borough his first stop this morning, as he toured the damage from the storm, which hit even harder, he said, in Brooklyn and Queens.

Motioning up Bement Avenue from the corner of Richmond Terrace, he said that street had 10 trees downed.

"The storm seem to touch down like hop scotching," he said. "One block has damage, the next block no damage."

Hardest hit on the Island was a section of the North Shore which included Livingston, Randall Manor, New Brighton and West Brighton.

Storm damage

Storm damage on Anderson Avenue and Simonson Place,  Port Richmond. More than 1250 Staten Island residents were without electricity 12 hours after the storm. (Photo: Jan Somma-Hammel/Staten Island Advance)

Read More: 

New York feels wrath of twin tornados,  macroburst as brutal winds ripped out 1, 500 trees across city
New York Daily News -  September 17, 2010 - By Kevin Deutsch,  Clare Trapasso, Larry Mchane  

New York Post - September 18,  2010 - By Selim Algar, Ikimulisa Livingston, Doug Auer 

New York Post - September 18,  2010 - By Rebecca Gregg,  Erin Calabrese, Bill Sanderson  

New York Post - September 18, 2010 -  By Ada Calhoun, Amanda Longobucco and Doug Auer  

New York Times -  September 17,  2010 - By N. R. Kleinfield and Elissa Gootman

New York Times - September 17, 2010 - By James Barron

Staten Island Advance - September 17, 2010 -   Deborah E. Young

A Walk In The Park - September 16, 2010

Storm Photo Portfolios  (Scroll to Bottom Of Page)

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