The Heat Is Online

First Recorded Tornado Tears Through Brooklyn

That Wind That Left Part of Brooklyn Upside Down? It Was a Tornado, All Right


The New York Times, Aug. 9, 2007


It took experts until late in the afternoon yesterday to confirm what many in southwestern Brooklyn knew had descended on their neighborhoods as a new workday dawned. It was a tornado  the first to hit Brooklyn since modern record-keeping began  and it turned whole sections of Sunset Park and Bay Ridge upside down.


Roofs were torn off houses. More than 30 families were forced from their homes. Tall trees as thick as men were yanked out by the roots. No one was seriously injured, but cars were turned sideways, awnings and aluminum siding shredded, and countless windows and windshields shattered, in a destructive rain of brick and branch and water that concentrated much of its wrath on 58th Street in Sunset Park.


There, Lanie Mastellone was drinking her coffee shortly before 7 in her apartment on the top floor of the two-story house she has owned for 44 years when she sensed that her windows were going to blow in. She headed toward the front of the house, and as she passed from one room to another the ceilings collapsed.


I passed my living room, I passed my dining room, I go to the bedroom, Ms. Mastellone said. They were going one at a time. It was coming from the back forward. I had my dining room fixture crash onto my dining room table.


Ms. Mastellone, who lives alone, was more puzzled than terrified. It was almost unemotional, she said. I was still thinking, Maybe my roof is leaking? I think denial is a wonderful thing sometimes.


Still, she knew she had to get out. I grabbed my wedding ring and my cellphone, she said. She opened her apartment door, stepped out into the hallway and looked up. Thats when I realized I had no roof.


She was not the only one. Two houses away, at No. 626, the roof looked as if it had exploded. Most of it was lying in the street. At the house in between, the cornice was ripped off, the exposed brick beneath it crumbled and crushed.


Across the street, Sui Leung, a physicians assistant, watched it all, unaware of what she was seeing. I looked out and all I saw was a patch of blurry grayness, Ms. Leung said. I saw big objects move. She couldnt tell what they were.


The National Weather Service declared the storm a Category 2 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds from 111 to 135 miles an hour. It was the first tornado recorded in Brooklyn since record-keeping began in 1950, said Jeffrey M. Warner, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, and only the sixth recorded in New York City since 1950 and the first since a weak one touched down on Staten Island in 2003.


When the formal assessments are made, the tornado will undoubtedly have caused many millions of dollars in property damage, but considering its power, it could have done much worse.

One woman broke her leg and a half-dozen other people were cut by flying glass, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said. Twenty buildings were evacuated, and 50 others were damaged, the Buildings Department said.


Around the corner from Ms. Mastellone, on Sixth Avenue, Officer Tony Gonzalez was awakened by the cries of his 5-year-old son. Hes saying hes scared, hes under the covers, said Officer Gonzalez, who works in the Police Departments legal bureau. I immediately look in my backyard. My tree is gone; my neighbors tree is in my backyard. Thats when I knew something was wrong.


Officer Gonzalez raced around the corner to 58th Street and escorted several dozen people from their homes. In one house, he said, there appeared to be half a dozen families of Chinese immigrants living in the basement.


Some of them were scared, he said. They didnt want to come out. I told them youve got to come out, in case it collapses.


By the afternoon, the Red Cross had set up a reception center in a school auditorium a few blocks away. Dozens of frightened-looking people, nearly all of them apparently Chinese-American, filed in carrying battered suitcases, plaid laundry bags, rice cookers and plastic basins holding personal possessions.


The view from Officer Gonzalezs roof took in a scene of devastation. Felled trees lay everywhere. Neighbors popped their heads up like prairie dogs through newly missing skylights to survey the damage. So much trouble, a woman said, shaking her head.


The tornado first touched down on Staten Island around 6:22 a.m., damaging mostly trees, then crossed over and landed in Bay Ridge between Third and Fourth Avenues, south of 68th Street, according to the weather service, and by the time it reached 58th Street it had weakened to a Category 1 twister, with winds of 86 to 100 miles an hour. The higher winds tore the roof off a Nissan dealership on 66th Street, damaged 11 roofs on 68th Street, broke church windows and deforested much of Leif Ericson Park.


The tornado seemed to single out residential property, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.


Most of this damage will be to individual homes, he said, because the storm cut down the side streets where peoples homes are, rather than on the main streets where your businesses are located.

A block south of Ms. Mastellones former roof, on 59th Street, the damage was still impressive. A Toyota Yaris, a compact car perhaps but still weighing a good 2,300 pounds, sat at a rakish angle to the curb, its windows blown out, its lights shattered. The remains of London plane trees lay everywhere. Jeannette Rivera, a medical biller for a gynecologists office at 630 59th Street, swept chunks of roof and insulation out into the gutter.


In the backyard, utility wires were tangled into spaghetti under tree limbs, and the offices barbecue grill was in the next yard. Howard, thats your table? Ms. Rivera asked her neighbor over the fence.

Indeed, it was Howard Rincheys picnic table, upside down in his neighbors yard. His metal clothesline pole lay decapitated. I was having coffee with my wife, said Mr. Rinchey, a retired firefighter.


We heard the noise, she got frightened. I had to put her in the

bathroom. I came out, the noise stopped, there was my picnic table, my pole, my coffee table.


A roofer told him later that it would cost about $2,000 to fix his roof. Still, Mr. Rinchey was not complaining too loudly. Id say, for this type of tornado, which we havent seen in Brooklyn for a long time, Id say: mediocre.