Tornadoes hit NYC; violent storm tears through D.C.

11:29 AM, Sep 9, 2012   |    comments
This photo provided by Joey Mure shows a storm cloud over the Breezy Point area of Queens section of New York on Saturday. (Joey Mure, AP)
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NEW YORK - Damaging storms that spawned tornadoes in New York City, darkened tens of thousands of homes in the Washington, D.C., area and flooded New England streets turned a normal day of rest into a day of cleaning up for many East Coast residents on Sunday.

No serious injuries were reported when a twister hit a beachfront neighborhood Saturday on the edge of New York City and a second, stronger tornado followed moments later about 10 miles away. Residents got advance notice but still the storm took people by surprise.

"I was showing videos of tornadoes to my 4-year-old on my phone, and two minutes later, it hit," said Breezy Point neighborhood resident Peter Maloney. "Just like they always say, it sounded like a train."

The unsettled weather, part of a cold front that crossed over the Eastern Seaboard, toppled trees and power lines and damaged buildings as it passed through. Wind gusts reached 70 mph in some places.

Tornado-like funnel clouds were reported in Fairfax County, Va., and in Prince George's County, Md., but had not been confirmed by Saturday evening, meteorologist Andy Woodcock of the National Weather Service said.

One person suffered minor injuries during a partial stage collapse at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival in Arlington County, Va., and six people were evacuated from a Washington apartment building when a tree fell on it. Fairfax County officials reported three home cave-ins because of downed trees, a water rescue in the Potomac River and dozens of electrical wires down.

By Sunday morning, about 15,000 customers were without electricity in northern Virginia, according to Dominion Virginia Power. Pepco reported outages to more than 5,000 customers in the District of Columbia and Maryland's Prince George's and Montgomery counties. BGE reported about 1,500 outages, most in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

In New York City, videos taken by bystanders showed a funnel sucking up water, then sand, and then small pieces of buildings as the first tornado moved through the Breezy Point section of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens.

At the Breezy Point Surf Club, it ripped the roofs off rows of cabanas, scattered deck chairs and left a heavy metal barbecue and propane tank sitting in the middle of a softball field, at least 100 yards from any home.

"It picked up picnic benches. It picked up Dumpsters," said the club's general manager,Thomas Sullivan.

In the storm's wake, broken flower pots, knocked-down fences and smashed windows littered the community of seaside bungalows. Half an hour later, the weather was beautiful, but Sullivan had to close the club to clean up the damage.

The roof of Bob O'Hara's cabana was torn off, leaving tubes of sunscreen, broken beer bottles and an old TV set exposed to the elements.

"We got a new sunroof," said O'Hara, who has spent summer weekends at the Breezy Point club for his entire 52 years. "The TV was getting thrown out anyway," he added.

The second twister hit to the northwest, in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn but also near the water, about seven minutes later. The National Weather Service said winds were up to 110 miles per hour, and several homes and trees were damaged.

Tornadoes are traditionally rare in the New York City area, but they have occurred with regularity in recent years. A small tornado uprooted trees on Long Island last month.

In 2010, a September storm spawned two tornadoes that knocked down thousands of trees and blew off a few rooftops in Brooklyn and Queens. A small tornado struck the same year in the Bronx. In 2007, a more powerful tornado damaged homes in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

More than 1,100 customers lost power Saturday in New York City.

Across New York state, in Buffalo, strong winds blew roofing off some buildings and sent bricks falling into the street. The city of Albany canceled the evening portion of an outdoor jazz festival because of the threat of storms.

With wind gusts reaching up to 60 mph, the storms moved into New England, flooding roads, toppling trees and snapping power lines.

For about three hours, the storm barraged western Massachusetts, western Connecticut and part of New Hampshire before tapering off near Rhode Island, but not before flooding roads in East Providence, the National Weather Service said.

In Fall River, Mass., floodwaters reached up to car windshields and stalled out dozens of vehicles. A day care center was evacuated and St. Anne's Hospital's emergency room flooded.

In New Hampshire, television station WMUR reported 4,000 power outages. The storm reached every county in Vermont, all within a two-hour window, but mercifully left the state without any extraordinary damage, according to early reports.

Weather Service meteorologist John Cannon said the storms by late Saturday had come and gone in Maine, where the concern then became high swells of 4 to 8 feet on the beaches and rip currents that would make it dangerous to be out on the water Sunday.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Colleen Long in New York and Ed Donahue in Washington.


Karen Matthews, Associated Press

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