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Long Island

Powerful thunderstorm takes heavy toll on LI

Moshe Barayev of Queens was driving his car

Moshe Barayev of Queens was driving his car on Middle Neck Road when this tree and utility pole landed on it during Thursday's storm. (June 25, 2010) Credit: William Perlman

Denise Vazquez was at work Thursday afternoon when a thunderstorm tore across Long Island, knocking out power at Leonard's of Great Neck, a catering hall where she works.

Worried about her three dogs, Vazquez headed home, walking on Middle Neck Road.

"The roads were just blocked," Vazquez said. "You had to literally walk between each wire."

During her 45-minute trip, Vazquez saw toppled trees leaning on houses and others lying across yards and roads.

"It just looked like Armageddon," Vazquez said. "I've never seen anything worse. There were trees and wires everywhere."

The powerful thunderstorm cut across Long Island, concentrating its force in central Great Neck, where winds wrenched trees from the earth and brought them down on roads, houses and cars.

"Nine out of 10 blocks are impassable," said Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead Town supervisor, as he surveyed the scene in Great Neck. "It's incredible. I've never seen anything like it."

Diana Cohen was in her Embassy Court home Thursday when the storm hit. "A heavy, heavy tree is sitting on top of my house," Cohen said. "Our car is under the tree."

High winds, rain and hail swept onto the North Shore, where the worst damage was done at about 2:45 p.m., after the storm had crossed into Nassau County from Queens, the National Weather Service said. It then rumbled across the Island and struck southwestern Suffolk County before moving out into the Atlantic at about 3:45 p.m. Thousands were left without power, and service on the Long Island Rail Road was disrupted.

"This was a significant storm, I would say, and pretty fast moving," said meteorologist Richard Castro.

As of Thursday evening, officials in Nassau and Suffolk said the storm had caused no deaths or serious injuries.

Castro said the weather service and emergency officials think a strong downburst of air that can accompany bad thunderstorms caused the worst of the North Shore damage. When the air hits the ground, Castro said, it fans out.

A 62-mph gust was recorded at LaGuardia Airport as the storm approached Long Island, Castro said, and hail of 1.75 inches in diameter, extremely large for the area, was reported around the Queens side of the Throgs Neck Bridge.

Smaller hail was also reported in East Williston, East Hills, Garden City, Levittown and Farmingdale, according to the weather service.

At 5 p.m., the Long Island Power Authority reported that more than 28,000 of its 1.1 million customers were without power, most in North Hempstead.

"All available crews have been deployed and are assessing the damage," said LIPA spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter. As of 7 p.m., the number of customers without power had been reduced to 21,000, Baird-Streeter said.

Service has been restored in both directions on the Port Washington branch. Service had been suspended on the branch for several hours as a result of fallen trees on the tracks and weather-related signal problems.

With Mark Harrington, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Nomaan Merchant and Ben Wieder

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