Violent storm leaves path of destruction across boro

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Last week’s record-breaking heat wave came to a violent end Friday night when a fierce thunderstorm raged through the borough, leaving a path of damage to trees and buildings that caused one man’s death in Brooklyn just blocks from the Queens border.

The heaviest damage was concentrated in northeast Queens, where a tree crashed into a house, a bolt of lightening ignited a fire and winds blew the roof off an Episcopal school building.

“I’ve seen ... hurricanes that didn’t do as much damage,” said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who made repeated tours of his district in the days after the storm.

Power outages occurred across the borough but were most severe around Middle Village and Maspeth.

The storm’s impact was felt most lightly in southeast Queens, where little damage was reported despite the area’s historic problems with flooding.

Wind gusts exceeding 70 miles per hour were recorded across the metropolitan area, said meteorologist Tim Morrin of the National Weather Service, although no reports were logged from trained weather spotters in Queens.

Morrin said the severe weather, which is common in springtime as cold air masses from Canada clash with warm southern air, was exacerbated by the record-breaking heat that hit the city last week.

Although some people believed tornadoes may have touched down, meteorologist Joe Tabaco said tornado-force winds may have been caused by a phenomenon called a microburst, a powerful vertical wind that descends from the sky and moves along the ground during a thunderstorm.

On Ingram Street in Brooklyn, only a few blocks from the Ridgewood border, a 40-year-old man was crushed beneath a cinder block wall that collapsed on top of him shortly after 6 p.m. He was rushed to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

In Bayside, the winds got so fierce that they knocked a tree into a recently renovated two-story house at 42-33 208th St. around 6:40 p.m., said Capt. Bill Canner of Ladder Co. 164.

“The whole Fire Department is out now,” Canner said at the scene about an hour after the tree fell, by which time the storm had subsided to a drizzle. “Someone said that a tornado came through.”

The couple who recently moved into the home was not injured and planned to spend the night with neighbors, Canner said.

Mickey Drake, who heard the crash from her neighboring home, said the winds on 208th Street were so strong that she struggled to walk the few steps from her car to her house a few minutes before the tree fell.

“I tried three times to get out of my car, and each time I couldn’t get out because of the wind,” she said.

Out of 800 citywide reports of damaged trees logged by the Parks Department in the wake of the storm, more than 500 of them were from Queens, a department spokesman said. They included 200 downed trees, 240 fallen tree limbs and 80 hanging limbs.

Just blocks away from the 208th Street tree collapse, a flash of lightening sparked a fire when it struck the roof of a two-family house at 35-28 202nd Street.

“It didn’t sound like thunder, it sounded more like an explosion,” said Jeffrey Slack, a 57-year-old retired entrepreneur who lives across the street from the house. “I saw fire coming from the roof of the house.”

Flames shot 20 feet through the attic windows, but firefighters were able to bring the blaze under control and save the upper level, which was still blackened by the fire.

In College Point, the Rev. Paul Hamilton, headmaster at St. Paul’s Episcopal School, said he had found sections of the building’s roof scattered across neighboring homes, forcing classes to be held at the Immanuel Lutheran School in Whitestone Monday morning.

ConEdison spokeswoman Carol Conslato said 12,659 customers lost power for an average of 2.2 hours during the storm, the most severe outage lasting for 2 1/2 hours in parts of Middle Village and Maspeth.

Tiffany Elliott, a resident of South Elmhurst who lost power for three hours, said the storm caused few inconveniences aside from frightening her children during the blackout.

“They were scared, so I tried to put them to bed early because there was no lights,” she said.

The utility received reports of 32 overhead wires burning from lightening strikes and 148 downed wires, Conslato said.

Outages also occurred in Whitestone, Bayside and Flushing, and to a lesser extent in Bellerose and St. Albans.

Southeast Queens residents got hit with the edge of the storm, according to area community boards. At Community Board 12, where flooding can be a problem on clear days, especially along Springfield Boulevard, new drainage systems seem to be working well, said Yvonne Reddick, the board’s district manager.

“It’s the strangest thing,” she said. “To date, I’ve received no phone calls about flooding. When the last storm hit, I was here at the office until 7 p.m. taking complaints.”

By Monday afternoon, Community Board 13 had gotten three calls on fallen tree branches, but nothing on anything severe like a full tree down, a spokeswoman said.

“Maybe it wasn’t as bad here,” she said.

Courtney Dentch and Alexander Dworkowitz contributed to the story.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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