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Residents stunned as sudden, fatal storm wreaks havoc in Queens

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In the first hour after a sudden, freak storm blew through Queens last Thursday, residents in Flushing walked around the smashed cars and downed trees and telephone wires in states of dazed or giddy shock, snapping photos of the damage with their telephones or asking their neighbors in multiple languages if they were okay.

“Stores are damaged,” said Eva Chaun, 26, who lives on the Horace Harding Expressway near 153rd Street and was inside the Jasmine Laundromat on Kissena Boulevard when the storm hit. “People are stuck in the stores because there’s a huge tree-trunk there.”

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The storm, which may have been a tornado, blew through Queens in the span of 10 minutes, as determined by reports from the National Weather Service, but caused significant property damage, striking down trees, lamp posts, traffic lights and electric poles. The storm also killed one woman, Aline Levakis, 30, who was driving along the Grand Central Parkway west of Union Turnpike when a tree struck her car, according to the National Weather Service and the Queens Borough President’s office.

The storm also killed Mechanicsburg, Pa., woman, Aline Levakis, 30, who was driving along the Grand Central Parkway west of Union Turnpike when a tree struck her car sometime before 5:52 p.m., according to police sources. The other person in the car, a 60-year-old male, was transported to New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens on Main Street in Flushing. The New York Times reported the man was Bill Levakis, Aline’s husband. He was listed as in stable condition with minor injuries, police sources said.

Jason Jin, 18, who lives on 154th Place, said he was inside his house when the storm hit, damaging his car.

“I was sleeping and all of the sudden I heard thunder and went to close all the windows,” he said.

He said when he looked outside the sky was pink and yellowish, and debris was flying all around.

John Soklowski, 57, who lives on 59th Avenue and 155th Street, said a huge piece of a tree halfway down the block on 155th Street snapped off and landed in front of his house.

“I’m standing right there,” he said, referring to his front door, “and the tree came down in front of us.”

Margarita Rodriquez, 44, said lightning struck the electrical pole in front of her house on 154th Place, causing it to snap in half in front of her property. She said the wind outside looked like the film “Twister.”

“It was 10 minutes. That’s it. But look in 10 minutes all the disaster it makes,” she said.

New York City Police Department officers working along Main Street at the time said they had no idea how many calls for service they had gotten that night, although they said as far as they knew there were no major injuries.

Some residents, such as 24-year-old Jonathan Trujillo, who lives on 58th Road and 53rd Street, redirected traffic, preventing cars from going down streets where the roads were blocked by downed trees and wires.

“Figured the cops are too busy,” Trujillo said, “figured I’d help them out a little bit.”

The storm went far beyond Queens. First reports of 74 mph winds came in near New Jersey, and reports of downed trees and damaged buildings started in Staten Island and Brooklyn before reaching Queens around 5:40 p.m., and reaching Connecticut at 43 mph around 6:15 p.m., said the National Weather Service.

Areas hit the hardest included Flushing, Rego Park, Maspeth and Jamaica, said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall in a press release. On Friday morning she recommended residents check on their neighbors to make sure they are not trapped inside their homes, use mass transit if possible and keep away from downed wires. She also sent condolences to Levakis, the woman killed on the Grand Central.

“On behalf of all our residents, we express sympathy to her family and friends,” she said.

Con Edison reported 45,000 had lost power in the storm, and they had restored power to 15,000 by 1 p.m. on Friday. More than 250 crews and 2,000 employees are working to restore power, with additional crews coming in from the Bronx, Westchester, Orange and Rockland Counties. The company sent out a release Friday stating dry ice would be distributed to those without power from 3 to 8 p.m. at Cunningham Park at Union Turnpike and 195th Street in Fresh Meadows, with more locations to be announced Saturday.

“Crews are assessing damage, making repairs and will be working throughout the night to restore power,” Con Edison said in a release.

Various elected officials responded to the storm. Meredith Burak, from City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s (D–Middle Village) office, said in an e-mail the councilwoman was going around to people’s homes and assessing what assistance they needed. State senate candidate Tony Avella and City Councilman Danny Dromm (D–Jackson Heights) said two trees had been destroyed outside his office on 75th Street, also offered their help to residents.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 6:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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