A brief but vicious storm that churned through New York City left a 14-mile (22.5-kilometer) path of destruction from Brooklyn to Queens, toppling trees, peeling away roofs and killing a woman in a car who had just swapped seats with her husband.
The National Weather Service sought Friday to determine whether the fury of wind and rain that hit the previous evening was a tornado. City officials said the storm hopped across New York Harbor from Staten Island and barreled uninterrupted from Park Slope in Brooklyn all the way to the Bayside neighborhood in Queens.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe estimated the storm destroyed more than 1,000 trees. He said forestry experts were finding damage patterns consistent with twisting winds, rather than more typical sideways winds.
The storm was part of a line that rippled across much of the Northeast before completing its run in New York City during the Thursday evening rush hour in a matter of minutes. It caught nearly everyone off guard, including commuters heading home and parents picking up children from after-school activities. It snapped trees and scattered them like bowling pins, downing power lines and crushing vehicles, including a car in Queens where Iline Levakis and her husband, Billy Levakis were parked. The couple, from Pennsylvania, had just switched seats in the car, said a former business partner, Peter Markos.
She was killed; he survived.
"There are lots of stories of people who came very close to being hit by a big tree and killed, but fortunately there was only one," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday. "And that one was really tragic."
Investigators on Friday were mapping out the width and intensity of the storm to determine whether a tornado touched down, said Kyle Struckmann, a National Weather Service meteorologist. The probe included surveying the aftermath by helicopter.
On a badly hit Brooklyn block of 1890s brownstones in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, the storm swept away parts of rooftops on at least six homes.
Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert Limandri said the city had received more than 60 reports of buildings with possible structural damage. Officials had ordered residents out of some of the worst-hit homes in Brooklyn.
All over the city, witnesses compared stories of what they had seen _ street signs uprooted, storefront windows blown out, thick tree trunks snapped in half, a parked van lifted a foot (30 centimeters) into the air.
"A huge tree limb, like 25 feet long, flew right up the street, up the hill and stopped in the middle of the air 50 feet up in this intersection and started spinning," said Steve Carlisle, 54. "It was like a poltergeist."
"Then all the garbage cans went up in the air and this spinning tree hits one of them like it was a bat on a ball. The can was launched way, way over there," he said, pointing at a building about 120 feet (36 meters) away where a metal garbage can lay flattened.
Eight twisters have hit New York City since 1950, the National Weather Service said. The last was in July, a small one that whirled through the Bronx during a thunderstorm that left thousands without power.