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Torrential rain floods northeast Queens roads

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Cascading sheets of rain deluged most of northeast Queens Sunday afternoon, halting traffic on the Cross Island Parkway, flooding basements in Flushing and Bayside, and causing cars to crawl cautiously through streets submerged in water.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the sky turned from a pencil-shaded gray to an ill-fated purple and then to a deep black. Without any warning, the rain began to fall so forcefully that many drivers traveling down Francis Lewis Boulevard near Cunningham Park had to veer off to the side.

During the 45-minute spurt of rain, many people who had ventured outdoors on bicycles or for a walk or a jog scrambled for temporary shelter, hoping that the brunt of the storm would soon pass.

At around 2:30 p.m., police closed off the northbound entrance to the Cross Island Parkway after receiving reports of people trapped in vehicles that were sunken under water. The reports, however, turned out to be erroneous, and police at the scene said there were no injuries.

Orange cones cordoned off the left lane of the northbound expressway, and emergency service and highway patrol officers suited up in wet-gear and yellow rain slickers to investigate the source of the flooding. Quizzical onlookers, their cars sloshing through deep puddles, slowed down to conduct their own investigations.

Two Little Neck residents, caught in the cloudburst as they bicycled down a pedestrian path that skirts the expressway, hid under a nearby overpass to shield themselves from the pelting rain.

"We've been stuck here for over an hour," said Fran Patton, still wearing her bicycle helmet, as she waited for the rain to subside. Then, a little before 3 p.m., the rain turned into a gentle pitter-patter, permitting Patton and her cycling partner, Rosemarie Hugel, to pedal back to Little Neck.

Police officers, however, remained on the expressway, two of whom walked the center divider like a tight rope, popping open manholes to gauge the magnitude of the flooding. One officer used a long hook to pry open the covers as another peeked inside the drains.

By 3 o'clock, the sonic thunder had yielded to ambient rumblings, and cars were once again attempting to navigate the treacherous streets that seemed better suited for amphibious vehicles.

On Sanford Avenue near 155th Street, water gurgled from a manhole surrounded by a pool of muddy water. Four feet of water drowned 36th Avenue and 200th Street in Bayside. And on 164th Street between 33rd and 35th Avenues, rain water spilled from the streets into homeowners' basements.

"Yesterday we had a river," said John Gonzalez, an 11-year resident of 164th Street, adding that he did not remember the flooding ever having been that bad. "What we need are storm sewers. What we have here are catch basins. They don't do the trick."

Gonzalez's basement escaped the wrath of Saturday's storm - it collected only 15 inches of water. "My next door neighbor had three feet," he said, "and the guy two houses down had 4 1/2 feet."

Still, Gonzalez had to buy pumps from Home Depot to siphon out the water from his basement as well as from his neighbors'.

In Bayside, a stretch of five-square blocks, from 200th to 203rd streets and 35th to 39th avenues, was immersed in four feet of water. "It was a reservoir," said Sean Hickey, a resident of 200th Street. "There were no yards, no pavement - zero."

Cars parked in the streets looked like they were floating, their tires having vanished. In many instances, the water washed up on the front stoops of homeowners. One woman, caught in the storm, had to hike up her skirt to prevent it from becoming soaked.

For nearly an hour, the rain held itself back, though the sky remained glumly overcast. And then at 4 p.m., the respite ended as another dose of rain coated the streets that were just beginning to dry up. That burst of precipitation lasted for only 15 minutes before ending.

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