Friday, 02 July 2010 00:00
Chris Knauer was on Northern Boulevard driving back to Great Neck and describes seeing a huge black cloud with a pale gray cloud in an inverted conical shape in front. She said, “My first reaction was that it was a funnel cloud, but then thought maybe it was a heavy sheet of rain. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Now we know. It was a microburst.
Those of us inside it witnessed driving horizontal rain so full of air, so frothy and foamy, that it was like being blinded by the ultimate endless summer crashing wave at the beach.
One woman driving in it felt a tremendous pressure and later discovered that the gasket around her entire windshield had been completely ripped off and whisked away. Others, seeing and hearing giant branches come down in front of them and behind, thought, “This could be it.”
We all survived.
It was a powerful and frightful knife of a storm with intense downdrafts that slashed through swaths of Great Neck leaving massive trees upturned with roots exposed, taking chucks of sidewalk along with them and everywhere there were downed power lines precariously tangled into the jumble of wounded trees with gargantuan branches ripped off like mere twigs. In some areas, clearly there had been a domino effect of tree after tree crashing and mangling into each other. Some evergreens were sheared off and topped, landing upside down and askew. While across the street or down the block, all was unscathed adding to the surreal new landscape.
Familiar and beloved landmarks became unrecognizable. Village Green, so denuded of old and venerable trees planted by our ancestors, is heart wrenching to behold, but the new children’s playground was untouched.
The scenes of destruction were overwhelming. As people emerged from their homes into the bright sunlight, they appeared dazed and unbelieving that so much havoc had happened so quickly, literally in a matter of minutes.
Great Neck had become a maze. Some drivers were directed in circular routes that became inescapable. With so many streets blocked, many people eventually abandoned their cars and walked home, wondering what they would find.
It was a miracle that no one was seriously hurt. All along the roadways, there were cars pinned between huge branches and in all reported cases, the drivers were able to walk away.
Just before the storm hit, staff at Parkwood’s swimming pool quickly herded the children inside to safety and supervised them until their parents could get to them. We saw many frantic moms and dads walking to reach their children having left their cars behind. Shortly after the storm, big portions of Middle Neck Road were cleared enough for cars to pass by, in sections with only one lane clear.
An emergency command post was set up overnight at the Vigilant’s Firehouse to begin the arduous work of clearing the roads, with the main roads being a top priority, assessing the extent of the damage and securing the power lines. Mayors and trustees of the Old Village, Great Neck Estates, Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano assessed their resources and coordinated efforts with LIPA, National Grid, Verizon and Cablevision and the various village police departments as well as the 6th Precinct. Crews from Nassau County’s Department of Public Works were brought in immediately to assist the public works staff from the villages, the park district and the town. The Alert Fire Department was at the hub of the devastation and throughout the night, numerous fire departments from all over Nassau County joined to assist in the many calls.
Since this was a localized storm, crews poured in from the Town of Oyster Bay, upstate New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts to help restore the power lines. According to Mayor of Great Neck Ralph Kreitzman, it takes a crew 6 hours to restore one pole. Overnight Great Neck looked like a logging town with semi-trailers piled high with trees and gardening trucks loaded with top-heavy greenery waving as they rolled by.
There were instances of people trapped in cars, sometimes for hours, but all were rescued and there were no serious injuries. A miracle.
There were concerns that another thunderstorm was coming, but mercifully, the scattered storms moved out to sea. There are still many trees with branches hanging by a thread, called “danglers” by tree experts, and if they are not spotted and removed before the next summer thunderstorm rolls by, they still pose a danger.
Since Thursday, order is gradually being restored from the chaos as teams of workers continue steadily working despite the heat and the enormity of challenge. In the beginning, the buzz of power saws and the hum of generators were the background sounds that filled the air. More and more homes have electricity, but there are hard hit sections, such as Strathmore and areas around Memorial Field that are still without power as we go to press.
Park district employees worked hard to open Parkwood on Sunday so that families still without power would have a place to cool off and take showers. We saw many families entering Allenwood Park, despite the trees that were felled there. Steppingstone Park was not damaged and reports of Kings Point Park are that it was not heavily damaged. The summer program at the park district is under way in spite of the logistical obstacles. The commissioners have programming as a top priority so that families and especially children can get back to normal activities as soon as possible.
Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz reports that a tree crashed through the roof over the pool at North Middle School. The 8th grade graduation scheduled for Friday was postponed until further notice. At North High, a parapet was crushed in the rear of the building near the gym and there was extensive tree damage. At the Village School, there were broken windows and cars were damaged. At Baker, there were also many trees down, a broken window and car damage. JFK sustained tree damage, but none to the building and the damage at Saddle Rock was minimal. Cumberland and Clover also lost trees. All of the schools mentioned lost power. Ms. Berkowitz says that since the storm, the administrative staff, grounds staff, security staff and the custodians have worked around the clock and have been “superb.” The summer program will begin next week as scheduled.
The fateful Thursday the storm hit was graduation day. Families returning home after the ceremonies at the Tilles Center were shocked as they drove back to Great Neck and were caught up in huge tangles of traffic.
Some residents have asked us if the water supply is safe. Water Authority of Great Neck North Gregory Graziano assures the public that the water is perfectly safe and potable.
Mayor Ralph Kreitzman expressed a sentiment felt by so many, “When a crisis like this happens and you see people pull together, it gives us all hope and energy to keep going. We have so many dedicated men and women who are laboring beyond the call of duty. Thank you to everyone who is helping us recover.”