National Weather Service officials confirmed Wednesday night that a tornado had touched down in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn this morning about 6:30 a.m.
The tornado, which was confirmed by twisting patterns in the debris left behind, was probably moving at speeds of 111 to 135 miles per hour, meteorologists said.
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Hours after the tornado and violent thunderstorm pounded the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited one of the blocks hardest hit, shook hands with residents and said that, thankfully, no one was seriously hurt there.
The mayor arrived at 68th Street and 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge at about 11:20 a.m., less than three hours after the tornado and storm knocked windows out of the Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church, toppled trees and branches and blew the roofs — or portions of them — off a handful of row houses in the working-class neighborhood.
One area resident, Ted Najjar, 58, told the mayor he had grown up on the block — and that the house he currently lives in was previously owned by his parents. “To see the block like this is just terrible,” Najjar told the mayor.
“As long as nobody’s hurt,” Bloomberg said.
Around them bricks, wood, pieces of roofs and downed tree limbs littered the street.
Officials at the National Weather Service confirmed this evening that a tornado had struck the area, after residents all day had described a tornado-like storm.
The storm caused the partial collapse of a building at 58th Street and 6th in Sunset Park.
It also ripped the roofs off of a number of houses on the north side of Bay Ridge Avenue, between 3rd and 4th avenues, while leaving buildings on the south side of the street untouched.
One resident of 68th Street, Vinny Ferraioli, 50, said he was getting ready to go to work as a computer programmer for Consolidated Edison when he turned on the Weather Channel and learned a tornado watch had been issued for Bay Ridge.
He said his 11-year-old daughter became concerned and he tried to calm her fears. “’Honey,’” Ferraioli told her, “’we never get a tornado.’”
Then Ferraioli said he got “a bad feeling” and decided to usher his daughter, his wife and his parents to the basement. But, before they even reached the basement door, the fury of the storm hit.
By 11:30 a.m. he was trying to figure out how to patch his roof, which had been partially destroyed by the winds.
“It’s very weird,” he said. “I called my boss this morning and said, ‘You won’t believe this. There’s actually a tornado.’”
Down the block, at the corner of 68th Street and 4th Avenue, Pastor David Aja-Sigmon stood on the sidewalk outside the Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bay Ridge sweeping shards of glass with a broom.
Yellow New York City Police Department tape cordoned off the area. A fallen pine tree lay on the nearby street.
The storm had shattered front stained-glass window of the red-brick church — a huge pentagon-shaped window measuring at least 15 feet wide and perhaps 20 feet high.
“Right now, we’re just mourning,” Aja-Sigmon said, surveying the scene outside the church, which also suffered storm-related damage to several side windows. “We’re just thankful to god that no one was here and was hurt.”
Aja-Sigmon said he served the past two years as pastor at the church, founded by Syrian-Americans, having moved to Bay Ridge from Chicago.
“Never would I imagine there would be a tornado and the windows would be gone,” Aja-Sigmon said, saying neighborhood residents claimed it was a tornado that struck the area. “I thought I left that back in the Midwest.”
In the aftermath of the storm, Lisa Hickey, 46, was sweeping the steps outside her home on 68th Street. Branches were scattered across the sidewalk. Tiles had been blown off the top of her roof.
She said she heard a “big boom” at about 5:45 a.m. Wednesday — and then her beagle started barking.
“I was afraid to come out because there was lightning and thunder,” Hickey said. “It certainly sounded like a tornado, because we heard a whirring sound. . . . We felt the floor shaking in the house.”
Another resident, Tommy Scanlon, 69, she he had planned to go to the Rockaways Wednesday morning to play golf with a friend. Instead, the storm hit, leaving his 1998 grey Mercury Grand Marquis crushed by fallen branches.
“This morning a little after 6 I called my buddy and said, ‘Charlie, it look like were not going to play golf today.’” Scanlon said he heard the wind blowing and said: “’All this wind. My God, it’s got to be a tornado.’ I hadn’t felt anything like this since Donna in 1964 . . . Then I heard the alarms going off on the cars outside. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My car was buried in branches. There won’t be golf for another week.”
Councilman Vincent Gentile said residents had “never seen anything like this” in Bay Ridge, adding that it was fortunate no one was seriously hurt by the storm. Police could not immediately confirm if there were storm-related injuries.
“Luckily no one was seriously hurt,” Gentile said. “Had it happened later there would have been much greater injuries.”
“There was lightning and thunder like nothing we have every experienced,” Gentile added. “Some one said to me it felt like we were in the Gulf Coast and we’re in Brooklyn, New York.”
The storm not only flooded roads throughout the metro area and caused service disruptions to New York City Transit, Kennedy, LaGuardia, Long Island-MacArthur and Newark-Liberty airports as well as on the Long Island Rail Road, it also forced the closures of all 18 Nassau County north shore beaches, as well as many beaches on the South Shore.
The affected beaches are: Biltmore Beach Club, Hewlett Point Beach, Island Park Beach, Merrick Estates Civic Association Beach, Phillip Healy Beach, Bar Beach, Centre Island Bay, Centre Island Sound, Creek Club, Crescent Beach, Hempstead Harbour Beach, Lattingtown Beach, Laurel Hollow Beach, Morgan Sound, Piping Rock Beach Club, Pyrbil Beach, Ransom Beach, Roosevelt Beach, Sea Cliff Village Beach, Soundside Beach, Stebli Beach, Tappen Beach and West Harbor Beach.