A fierce windstorm swept through the New York City area on Thursday, killing a construction worker, tossing a signal pole onto train tracks, and hurling garbage cans onto busy streets.
With wind gusting up to 65 mph, the weather also was causing havoc at the region's major airports. The Federal Aviation Administration reported delays of about two hours late Thursday at New York's LaGuardia Airport and nearly four hours at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
Even going out for lunch was a chore.
Pedestrians in midtown Manhattan braced themselves against poles and traffic lights while waiting to cross the street. With gusts kicking up gravel and sand at construction sites, walking down the sidewalk became perilous for some.
“I got more sand in my eyes than a beach, and I almost got blown over backwards,” said electrician Michael Lazzaro, who ducked into a neighborhood bar on his way home from work.
On Long Island, high winds blew a crossing gate into a passing Long Island Rail Road train, sending four people to the hospital for injuries from shattered glass, the LIRR said.
Elsewhere on Long Island, a signal pole was blown onto the tracks, delaying trains and traffic. North of the city, Metro-North Railroad reported delays on its New Haven line between Grand Central Terminal and Stamford, Conn., because sheet metal blew onto the overhead wires that power the trains.
Wind was believed to be a factor in the death of 59-year-old construction worker Robert McGee of Bohemia, on Long Island. A concrete wall collapsed on him in Staten Island, city officials said.
The death was one of 24 incidents of debris blowing off buildings at construction sites around the city, the Buildings Department said. There were no other reported injuries, a spokeswoman said.
The department, which had told contractors this week to suspend crane and hoist operations if winds exceeded 30 mph, made a dozen surprise inspections Thursday. Inspectors found one mobile crane operating and issued a violation and stop-work order, a spokeswoman said.
Winds knocked out electricity to thousands of homes and businesses. About 27,900 customers in New Jersey, 816 on Long Island and 966 in New York City and Westchester County remained without power late Thursday, officials said.
The National Weather Service measured wind gusts of 48 mph in Central Park on Thursday afternoon; 55 mph at John F. Kennedy International Airport and 54 mph at LaGuardia. Wind gusts reached 65 mph in Brooklyn and 59 mph in the Bronx, the agency said.
Sustained winds were in the range of 30 mph to 40 mph. The winds were expected to ease Thursday evening.
Near the Hudson River on Manhattan's west side, powerful gusts of wind knocked over two coin-operated newspaper racks and two heavy metal trash cans at one intersection. Trash swirled down the street.
Willard Cudjoe, a construction worker who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 250 pounds, marveled at the wind strength while on a lunch break at a local deli.
Had he not braced himself against the sides of buildings as he walked down the sidewalk, “the wind would have taken me off my feet,” he said.
In Queens, the wind became a problem for firefighters combatting a five-alarm blaze that damaged 12 homes, Fire Department spokesman Frank Dwyer said. Smoke swirled in the wind, making it difficult for firefighters to see, he said.
Four people, including two firefighters, suffered minor injuries, Dwyer said. The fire reportedly displaced 30 residents.
It wasn't immediately clear whether wind played a role when a piece of glass fell out of its frame in a Manhattan high-rise, hitting a man in the head. He was being treated late Thursday at a hospital; his condition wasn't immediately available.
The upper level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was closed because of the wind, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said. New York City Transit buses ran on the bridge's lower level, the MTA said.
Large vans and tractor-trailers were barred from the Throgs Neck Bridge, and speed limits were lowered for cars on the Verrazano, Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone bridges, the MTA said.