Severe storm knocks down trees in Battery Park City

Saturday;s storm knocked down many trees in Battery Park City including one by Gateway Plaza. Photo by Jay Fine.
Saturday’s storm knocked down many trees in Battery Park City including one by Gateway Plaza. Photo by Jay Fine.

A brief, powerful rain and hail storm leveled large trees and shattered windows in Battery Park City just before 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 11.

Some people were scratched by the falling trees but no one was seriously injured.

With some of the fury and specificity of a tornado — though no one has definitely called it that — the storm did most of its damage between Albany and Liberty Sts. on the Battery Park City esplanade. Merchants River House lost eight trees, according to Charles Waddy, assistant general manager, who was on duty at the time.

Customers had been eating outside on the terraces, he said, but came inside as the storm approached from the west, over the Hudson River. Some people who were walking by on the esplanade ran inside the restaurant to shelter from the storm.

Waddy was helping two customers come in from Merchants River House’s northern patio when he heard a crackling sound and then a thunderous crash. He rushed to the south terrace and saw that trees had fallen there as well.

“All of the trees came down at once,” he said.

In 15 minutes, it was all over.

By then, the New York City Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Department had arrived on the scene. Waddy said that the F.D.N.Y. checked the building’s electrical outlets.

“It was scary,” Waddy said. “What if someone had stayed outside a minute longer? It was shocking, how quickly it happened.”

Cindy Fine, who was watching the storm from a high floor of an apartment on Rector Place, said that the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was horizontal. She said she had never seen anything like it. Another witness described “walls of water.”

Several apartments on Rector Place and at Gateway Plaza had windows blown out by the force of the storm. At The Solaire at 20 River Terrace, building manager Michael Gubbins reported “slight damage” to one of the building’s revolving doors.

“Before the full extent of the storm’s impact was known, T. Fleisher, [the director of horticulture for the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy], assembled a team with special expertise in tree climbing and chain saw operation assuming those skills would be necessary,” said Matthew Monahan, spokesperson for the conservancy. “He would be proven correct.”

Waddy said that around 7 p.m. on Saturday, workmen from the Parks Conservancy started removing trees and branches from the south terrace of Merchants River House. They also removed trees from the north terrace that were blocking the path into the restaurant.

The work continued to a limited degree on Sunday and is likely to continue for several more days.

Monahan said that the trees that fell “are some of the oldest in Battery Park City, going back to the early 1980s.”

Because they were growing on landfill over a concrete substratum, their root balls were wide but not deep. Whether the other trees on the esplanade are in jeopardy and could be a safety hazard remains unanswered.

“We’re in full recovery mode,” Monahan said. Evaluation of the remaining trees will come later.

Downtown Express photo by Scot Surbeck


Trees fell on the Merchants River House cafe after a severe rain and hail storm Sat., May 11. Downtown Express photo by Scot Surbeck.
Firefighters and other emergency personnel were on the scene soon after the trees fell. Downtown Express photo by Scot Surbeck.