[Updated] Queens braces for Sandy, major bridges closed

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Michelle Pak (c.) wades into the water at Gantry State Park in Long Island City Monday afternoon. Photo by Christina Santucci
Phil the dog sports a poncho in Long Island City. Photo by Christina Santucci
A man rides a bicycle down an almost deserted Jamaica Avenue. Photo by Christina Santucci
Subway turnstiles at the Parsons Boulevard Archer Avenue station in Jamaica are blocked with tape. Photo by Christina Santucci
Water pours into MacNeil Park in College Point. Photo by Colin Devries
Paul and his son Logan Salas try to control their umbrella in Long Island City. Photo by Christina Santucci
Rough water is visible in Flushing Bay. Photo by Joe Anuta
A member of the National Guard escorts a military vehicle, with the words "Hurricane Sandy" written on a paper in its windshield, out of the Jamaica armory. Photo by Christina Santucci
The East River spills over into Gantry State Park in Long Island City. Photo by Christina Santucci
Sara and Samantha Batutis visit Gantry State Park. Photo by Christina Santucci
The Sparrow, a restaurant and bar in Astoria, advertises that they are open with plywood on the front windows. Photo by Christina Santucci
Peter and Michelle Pak venture onto a pier in Long Island City. Photo by Christina Santucci
Debris lines the area surrounding Flushing Bay. Photo by Joe Anuta
Julio Martinez and his family aredressed for the weather. Photo by Christina Santucci
People walk by a split tree on Ditmars Boulevard near 28th Street. Photo by Christina Santucci
Planters along Jamaica Avenue lie in the street Monday afternoon. Photo by Christina Santucci
A National Guard solder jumps from a vehicle as official prepared for Governor Andrew Cuomo's planned storm update in Jamaica. Photo by Christina Santucci
Long Island City resident Daniel Farcas walks to the water's edge to take a photo. Photo by Christina Santucci
Dozens of people venture out onto a pier in Gantry State Park. Photo by Christina Santucci
Councilman Ruben Wills recruited his nephew Jaylan Hall, 14, to help constituents during the storm. Photo by Christina Santucci

Hurricane Sandy has made landfall in the Northeast and state and local officials were taking all precautions to keep residents safe as the brunt of the storm swirled toward Queens Monday afternoon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated Monday that the mandatory Zone A evacuations in the Rockaways, Howard Beach and other low-lying areas throughout the city remained in effect. He also announced public schools would be closed Tuesday and city parks would remain shuttered. Evacuation centers and shelters have been established in all five boroughs.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday afternoon that the Throggs Neck and Whitestone bridges would close at 7 p.m., and later in the day, he said that the Robert F. Kennedy Triborough Bridge would also be shut down.

“We expect surge levels of 6 to 11 feet,” the mayor said during a press conference. “A surge of 9 to 10 feet is possible along Coney Island and the Rockaways … maximum surge impact in these areas are expected to be at some period plus or minus two hours around 8:15 p.m. — so say 6 to 10:30.”

Bloomberg said late Monday that calls regarding downed trees should be directed to 311, not 911. It is important to keep the lines open only for emergencies, he said, and a large number of non-emergency calls to 911 will tie up critical resources.

While many residents hunkered down Monday to brace for the storm, some of Queens’ major highways still saw motorists, though they were scarcer than the average workday. Lighted displays warned drivers on the Grand Central and Cross Island parkways and the Van Wyck and Long Island expressways of high winds and slippery roads. Those driving eastbound were reminded of the tunnel closures, which included the Battery and Holland tunnels.

On Bayside’s Bell Boulevard, the rain was little more than a drizzle around 10 a.m. but grew increasingly worse as noon neared. Despite the incoming storm, some businesses stayed open. Top Hot Bagel on 40-18 Bell Blvd. had several customers around 11 a.m., although masking tape had been put up in the windows.

Gary Chung, employee of the 7-11 across the street, said he would be staying open through the storm, even though he had seen fewer customers.

Patrick Perulli, co-owner of supermarket Bayside Milk Farm at 35-15 Bell Blvd., said he was enjoying a flush of customers Monday and since Friday in anticipation of Sandy’s arrival.

“Yesterday, you could not move in here,” Perulli said. “The parking lot was jammed.”

Perulli said his store had good, local suppliers, which allowed it to stay open when Bay Terrace Shopping Center and Fairway in Douglaston had to close. He said he planned to close at some point during the day, but wasn’t sure when.

“We’ll stay open as long as we can serve the community without it becoming dangerous,” he said.

Marco Romero, manager of the Jackson Hole Diner next door, said he was also hoping to stay open as late as possible, but was not as lucky with customers. He said he had about 60 percent fewer customers than normal.

“Everybody is afraid to come out,” Romero said. “If it was up to me, I’d be at home, but we got to work.”

Over in Astoria, Ditmars Boulevard did not have as much rain as Bayside by noon. Many restaurants were closed, although pharmacies, bodegas and Laundromats were open for business. Several people carried home bags from the Trade Fair supermarket on 37-11 Ditmars Blvd.

Trade Fair manager Hamdi Asad said he had more customers than normal but many employees opted to stay home. He said normally 70 people work at Trade Fair but they were down to a skeleton crew of about 20.

“We didn’t get all the deliveries we need,” Asad said. “The milk came in. The bread came in. But the grocery didn’t come in.”

He said he had no plans to close the 24-hour store.

“We’re in a good position here,” Asad said.

Store Manager Himu Biswas and Assistant Manager Titas Paul of the Dunkin’ Donuts on 37-23 Ditmars Blvd. said they also planned to be open 24 hours. They said as natives of Bangladesh, they were used to hurricane weather.

“If in an emergency police come and close the store, then we’ll close,” Paul said.

Closer to the water on Ditmars Boulevard near 28th Street, strong wind caused a tree to break in half, and giant branch covered an SUV at around 2 p.m.

At around noon, waters of the East River were lapping over portions of the seawall at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. Deposits of leaves and debris about 30 yards away from the coast marked the point of the morning high tide, according to residents, but the storm surge predicted to hit the area later in the evening would was expected to send the waters much higher.

Some families were taking dogs for walks or were with their children watching the waters climb up onto land.

Many people, like Peter and Michelle Pak, were standing out on the pier taking photos of themselves against the misty backdrop of whitecaps.

They decided to wait out the storm in their sixth-floor apartment, which is inside the evacuation zone, rather than leave.

“If it gets a lot worse, we’ll just take the car and leave,” Pak said, echoing many residents’ justification that the entrance to the Long Island Expressway is only a few blocks away.

“I’m a little concerned,” said Paul Salas, who rode out Hurricane Irene with his son Logan inside his home just a block from the shore. Despite his concerns, Salas planned to wait it out again, but as he stared at the rising water, he said it was already getting higher than last year.

Katie Kruse said that the elevators to her building, which is right near the water, would be shut down and she would be stuck in her 36th floor apartment, which is one reason she decided to evacuate farther inland.

“Also, I didn’t want to be by myself,” she said. “I have family that lives nearby, so I knew I would rather do that.”

Along the shore of the East River in College Point, lifelong native Walter Eberle said he had never seen conditions like this.

“In all my 61 years, I’ve never seen the water this high,” he said while gazing out to the choppy surf from MacNeil Park, “and it’s not even high tide yet.”

Water lapped against a chain-link fence and benches along a shoreline path at the park. The rock jetty usually found protruding out into the river was completely.

Eberle said his brother, living in a basement apartment on 9th Avenue, was concerned about flooding. “This is much worse than (Hurricane) Irene… and his place flooded last year,” he said.

City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) said he had been helping to remove downed trees in his neighborhood and had been in touch with Consolidated Edison about restoring power to more than 100 people in his district who had already lost electricity.

“Now we’re going to start making some phone calls to make sure our seniors are okay,” Wills said at the Jamaica armory, wearing a dry jacket the first one became soaked with rain.

Wills was on hand as National Guard soldiers designated vehicles for service with papers in the windshields, which read “Hurricane Sandy.”

The streets of Jamaica were largely vacant, and most stores on the typically bustling Jamaica Avenue were closed. Letters of the Old Navy store sign had been ripped off by the wind and flung onto the street and large flower pots in front had been tipped over.

Julio Martinez and his family were traipsing along the sidewalk, having stocked up their house with canned goods and water.

“We have a lot of supermarkets around here,” he said, brushing off concerns that Sandy would bring any danger to his family in Jamaica, since it is not listed as an evacuation zone.

Updated 12:30 pm, November 3, 2012
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