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Queens awaits federal storm aid

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The federal government is expected to decide by the end of the week whether Queens will obtain funding to help clean up what some have said could be hundreds of millions of dollars in damages sustained during last week’s tornado, borough officials said.

Members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured the borough this week to determine how much damage was done. If FEMA finds more than $7.2 million in damages in the borough, Queens will be eligible for federal funding to repair the destruction incurred during the tornado that ripped through Forest Hills, Rego Park, Maspeth, Middle Village, Flushing and Bayside last week.

“By far, Queens saw the worst of it,” city Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno said of the storm that officials said caused at least as much damage, if not more, to the borough than Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

Bruno joined Queens and city officials at Forest Hills’ MacDonald Park Friday to announce that inspectors from the federal government would assess the damage. The borough may have suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, according to sources who wished to remain nameless because figures had not yet been confirmed.

If federal inspectors do not find enough damage to enable Queens to be granted federal aid, city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said Friday in Forest Hills that he would ask the government officials to return and reassess the situation.

In a matter of minutes, the storm that packed 125 miles per hour winds brought down more than 1,000 trees in Queens, many of which fell onto homes and crashed onto cars. Two people died in the storm, including 30-year-old Aline Levakis, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., whose car was struck by a tree on the side of the Grand Central Parkway near Jewel Avenue, according to police.

As many as 45,000 people were left without power in the five boroughs, with most of them in Queens, according to Con Edison. Power has been restored to nearly everyone, according to Con Ed and City Council officials, but as many as 2,000 households in Queens still had no phone service as of Tuesday because of cable outages, according to Steven Stites, a spokesman for Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone).

Many of the borough’s synagogues lost power last Thursday — just one day before Yom Kippur services — including the Bayside Jewish Center. Halloran helped the group to move into a nearby community center, where they held the service Friday.

Borough President Helen Marshall, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) praised the combined efforts of the OEM, the city Parks Department, and the city Police, Fire and Sanitation departments for their efforts to clear the streets and remove more than 1,500 tons of debris in the wake of the storm.

“I am so proud to be a New Yorker,” Marshall said. “When New York is hit with a big challenge, we can always claim a victory.”

James McClelland, Koo’s chief of staff, said city officials were of particular help in working on St. George’s steeple. The towering wooden spire of the iconic church on Flushing’s Main Street was blown off the 308-year-old landmarked building.

“Over the weekend, the Sanitation Department did a great job,” said McClelland. “They came down to St. George’s and helped clean up the debris from the steeple.”

But Tony Avella, a former councilman who is challenging state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), said that while the FDNY worked hard to help residents affected by the tornado, the city Police Department did not.

“Perhaps the most disgraceful mismanagement of resources was traffic enforcement agents checking parking meters on Bell Boulevard in Bayside on Saturday while power was out and trees were still blocking streets and on homes and cars only a block away,” Avella said. “Couldn’t these agents have been redirected to help people affected by the tornado?”

The Juniper Park Civic Association said it, too, was disappointed in police efforts, pointing out that officials from NYPD headquarters in Manhattan told 18 special duty officers at the 104th Precinct in Middle Village to go home despite a request from Patrol Borough Queens North to hold the officers for help after the tornado.

“As neighborhood streets became overrun with rush-hour traffic spilling off the congested Long Island Expressway and gridlocked Queens and Woodhaven boulevards, the situation was made much worse with only a token police presence and no one to direct traffic or keep frantic motorists away from blocked roads with downed trees and wires,” the civic said. “Most emergency calls to the precinct went unanswered. Help would not arrive until six hours later at midnight, when 12 officers arrived from Brooklyn precincts.”

Homeowners also may pay to repair the sidewalks and could be reimbursed by the city at a later date, Marshall said. More information about the reimbursement process is available at the city comptroller’s website at comptroller.nyc.gov.

Connor Adams Sheets contributed reporting to this article.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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