This story was reported by John Valenti, Deborah S. Morris, Candice Ferrette, Rachelle Blidner, Alfonso A. Castillo, Carl Macgowan, Matthew Chayes, Vera Chinese, Ted Phillips, Joan Gralla, Olivia Winslow, Lisa L. Colangelo, Denise M. Bonilla, Catherine Carrera, Zachary R. Dowdy, Keldy Ortiz, Robert Brodsky, Pat Dolan and Mark Harrington. It was written by Brodsky.
Tropical Storm Isaias charged through Long Island Tuesday afternoon with high winds that knocked out power to more than 368,000 residents, canceled dozens of flights, toppled trees, downed wires and forced the Long Island Rail Road to shut down.
While drenching rains had been predicted, it turned out that the fast-moving storm's fiercest punch was its winds. There were sustained afternoon winds of 35 mph to 45 mph, punctuated by gusts as high as 78 mph that pushed hundreds of trees onto roofs, roadways and vehicles, and took down electrical wires.
“It’s crazy out,” Huntington Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli said Tuesday afternoon at the height of the storm. “It’s a little unnerving to be driving down the road with trees swaying and leaves flying through the air.”
The National Weather Service said the storm, which lasted just several hours, produced wind gusts ranging from 60 to 70 mph, topping out at 78 mph in Farmingdale at 1:46 p.m. “I think that is the highest we have seen on the Island, but we are still going through all the data,” said meteorologist Brian Ciemnecki.
Wind gusts of 75 mph were clocked at Stony Brook and the Great South Bay Tuesday afternoon. Nassau County’s high was 56 mph in Valley Stream at 1:56 p.m.
But state and local officials said the damage could have been considerably worse. Isaias shifted west late Monday and increased its speed moving northward, causing only minimal rain in most areas of the island.
The storm wreaked havoc on the region's transportation, causing dozens of flight cancellations and suspending service on the LIRR due to downed trees and utility poles, as well as outages, the transit agency said.
The city subway system suspended most outdoor service, with underground service remaining, the transit agency said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged people to stay indoors until early evening — including driving or walking — due to the high winds. “The storm has been much more of a wind event than flooding so far, thank God,” he told NY1.
And while a tornado warning was issued, there were no reports that one materialized. But winds were strong enough that siding and roof tiles were seen blowing off some houses, and the storm took down dozens of trees on Nassau’s South Shore, from Merrick to the Five Towns.
In West Hempstead, Phil DeVito said his family narrowly escaped serious injury when a 40-foot oak tree crashed through the upper floor bedroom where his son had been only moments earlier.
DeVito said his daughter had come home after grabbing a coffee and informed her family that the tree was swaying and lifting up from its roots. DeVito said he ushered his family out of the home about 15 minutes before the tree came down.
“Thank God my daughter came home,” he said. “My son was in his room. I don’t know if he would have got crushed, but he could have.”
DeVito, who plans to stay temporarily with one of his neighbors, said he’s grateful no one was hurt.
“I feel lucky,” he said. “Someone was on my side."
It could take up to a week for electric service to be fully restored, PSEG Long Island said.
About 200,000 customers were out of power by late afternoon in New York City and Westchester due to downed trees striking power lines, according to Matthew Sniffen, vice president of emergency preparedness. Manhattan was spared outages because the system is entirely below ground.
"It definitely won’t be hours,” he said of full restoration. “It’ll definitely be days.”
Outages were the second worst in Con Edison history, behind only superstorm Sandy, according to Mitch Schwartz, a de Blasio spokesman.
Schwartz said there were more than 1,200 reports of downed trees in the city from Tuesday's storm.
Flood-protection barriers to protect lower Manhattan were deployed along the southern tip of the island to prevent flooding like the kind the city saw during Sandy, de Blasio said.
Long Beach, which suffered major damage during Sandy, was spared any serious flooding but more than two dozen trees were down, along with power lines and roofs that had “blown off or partially blown off” from the wind, said city spokesman John McNally.
He said a large portion of roof at the Beach Terrace Care Center nursing home had blown off but that the section was over an unoccupied recreational room. No one was hurt.
Long Beach resident Sam Pinto, 36, said the storm took down portions of his PVC fence. His garage door was also damaged and a gazebo he had weighted down in his yard blew over his eight-foot fence into a neighbor’s yard.
“It’s totally ruined,” he said. “This was a pretty wild, treacherous wind event.”
In Baldwin Harbor, several trees lining Grand Avenue were uprooted, falling onto homes and across roadways, blocking passage for many vehicles.
The scene was equally chaotic on the North Shore.
In Manhasset, traffic lights on major thoroughfares were out, including just north of the Americana Manhasset near St. Francis Hospital while police were forced to direct traffic entering Port Washington's downtown.
Bayville Mayor Robert De Natale said power went out in the village after 2 p.m., forcing workers to begin using snowplows to clear large amounts debris on the roads.
“We were out clearing downed limbs … but that’s a bit dangerous because there were some live wires in the middle of them,” De Natale said.
The storm caused multiple road closures, including on Route 25A near New York Avenue in Huntington Station, and on the Southern State Parkway near the Suffolk County line.
The storm forced the cancellation of dozens of flights out of LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports while at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, tenants such as Southwest, American and Frontier Airlines began preparing early for the storm, said Caroline Smith, spokeswoman for Islip Town, which owns the airport.
"Airport personnel began securing all loose items as well as items on the construction sites," Smith said.
The storm forced the closure of most town and county beaches for swimming, with Southampton Town citing predicted 10 foot swells.
Even as the storm pulled away early Tuesday evening, the weather service said the risk of dangerous rip currents for South Shore beaches remains in effect through Wednesday with conditions dangerous to all swimmers and bathers.
The weather service issued a coastal flood warning for South Shore communities through 1 a.m. Wednesday and a coastal flood advisory for more minor flooding on the North Shore until 2 a.m. Wednesday.
In the Patchogue-Bayport area, trees were down on multiple streets, with some laying atop electric transmission lines. Some large trees 60 feet high toppled in backyards.
Orelli, the Huntington highway superintendent, said his department was on mandatory overtime and received roughly 100 calls for trees and branches down.
“We’re dealing with it as quickly as we can," he said. "Crews are strategically placed around town, especially around Huntington Hospital, where we’re trying to keep those roads that lead to the hospital clear for emergencies … We’re going to stay for as long as it takes today and into the night to make sure we’re cleaned up.”
Where to get help
Across Long Island, call 911 if there is an emergency requiring immediate attention of police, fire or EMS.
PSEG Long Island for Downed wires or power outages: 800-490-0075
National Grid for natural gas leaks: 800-490-0045
Long Island American Red Cross: 516-747-3500
NICE Bus: 516-228-4000
Long Island Rail Road: 718-217-5477
In Nassau County:
Nassau County main number: 516-571-3000
Nassau County Office of Emergency Management: 516-573-0636
Nassau County police nonemergency number: 516-573-8800
Nassau County SPCA: 516-843-7722
Town of North Hempstead: 516-869-6311
Town of Hempstead: 516-489-5000
Town of Oyster Bay: 516-677-5350
City of Glen Cove: 516-676-2000
Glen Cove Police Dept.: 516-676-1000
City of Long Beach: 516-431-1000
City of Long Beach Police Dept.: 516-431-1800
In Suffolk County:
Suffolk County: 311
Suffolk County police nonemergency: 631-852-COPS (2677)
Fire, rescue and emergency services nonemergency: 631-852-4900
Suffolk County SPCA: 631-382-7722
Babylon Town Public Works Department: 631-957-3161.
Brookhaven: Town 631-451-TOWN (8696)
Brookhaven Town Highway Department at 631-451-9200
East Hampton Town Highway Department: 631-324-0925
Huntington Town Highway Department: 631-499-0444.
Islip Town: 631-224-5380
Riverhead Town Highway Department: 631-727-3200 (Ext. 228).
Southampton Town police nonemergency: 631-728-3400.
Southold Town police nonemergency: 631-765-2600.
Shelter Island Town: 631-749-0291
— Newsday staff