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NEW YORK (AP) — Residents, utility crews and railroad workers cleaned up debris Friday after a brief but fierce storm barreled through New York City, tearing up trees, stripping roofs from homes, disrupting train service and killing at least one person.
The National Weather Service planned to spend the day investigating whether a tornado touched down Thursday evening during the storm. Tornado warnings had been issued for Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.
Crews at Long Island Rail Road, the nation's largest commuter rail line, worked through the night to clear tracks of fallen trees, which caused temporary service suspensions into the early-morning rush Friday.
About 29,000 customers, mostly in Queens, were without power at midmorning Friday, Consolidated Edison said. That's down from a high of 37,000.
A woman was killed when a tree fell on a parked car in Queens. Iline Levakis, 30, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., was pronounced dead at the scene and her 60-year-old husband suffered minor injuries, police said.
"She was a really sweet girl," said Peter Markos of the Palace Diner in Flushing, Queens, which he once owned with the woman's husband, Billy.
Markos said the couple had been married about four years and lived in Pennsylvania, where Billy Levakis operated a restaurant in Lemoyne.
He confirmed a published report that Iline Levakis had just switched seats with her husband before the tree crashed on their car.
Numerous minor injuries were reported elsewhere.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it "tragic" and "scary" and said a lot of other people had near-misses with falling trees.
"Our parks suffered yesterday. A number of the parks lost lots of trees," he said Friday on WOR Radio.
Getting around parts of the city Thursday night was difficult for even the mayor.
"Every street we turned, there were trees down, power lines down," he said.
Residents were awed by the power of the swift storm.
"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 away where a metal garbage can lay flattened.
There was plenty of tree damage in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, known for its tall, old trees that form a canopy of shade on many blocks. Dozens of trees were snapped in the storm, including one that pulled a square of asphalt up as it fell onto a parked pickup truck. The piece asphalt was left perpendicular to the pavement, still attached to the tree that lay across half the street, leaving one lane to pass.
The streets were still littered with large branches Friday, one day after the sky went black, thunder rumbled, and the wind blew through the neighborhood, rattling doors and windows and snapping branches — and even whole trees — like sticks.
Fire officials were inspecting 10 buildings in Brooklyn whose roofs were peeled off or tattered.
"The wind was holding my ceiling up in the air. It was like a wave, it went up and fell back down," said 58-year-old Ruby Ellis, who was doing dishes in her top-floor kitchen when the storm hit. "After the roof went up, then all the rain came down and I had a flood."
A neighbor in an adjacent building, Julian Amy, said he was sitting in his first-floor apartment when the storm barreled down his street. "I just heard a loud boom," the 33-year-old said. "I thought it was a truck accident."
Top-floor residents were evacuated. A structural engineer was called in to assess the damage.
Investigators planned to spend several hours Friday looking over the area and mapping out the width and intensity of the storm to determine if a tornado touched down, said Kyle Struckmann, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Eight twisters have hit New York City since 1950, he said. The last was in July, when a small one hit the Bronx during a thunderstorm that left thousands without power. In 2007, a tornado with winds up to 135 mph touched down in Staten Island and in Brooklyn, where it damaged homes and ripped the roof off a car dealership.
On Thursday, a grateful Townsend Davis stood outside his Brooklyn home, where a 40-foot tree that was uprooted from the sidewalk and crushed two cars still had a sign in the soil around its roots that read "Respect the trees."
"Someone up there wasn't listening," said Davis, 47. "I'm just glad it fell that way, as bad as I feel for the owners of that car, because if it fell this way, my house wouldn't be here."
Davis' children and wife were home when the storm hit.
"All of a sudden, we saw this dark cloud, and it was moving. I said 'Let's go in!'" said Stephen Wylie, who was working in a backyard in Brooklyn.
Within seconds, the front door started lashing. Trees branches were falling and trees came flying from other yards, Wylie said.
"They smashed the whole backyard, a gazebo there. Then half the roof was torn off — eight layers of it" — leaving only a layer of wood, he said.