Today’s news:

Prez declares disaster area after tornado

Queens legislators cheered President Barack Obama’s decision to declare a major federal disaster for New York, saying it will bring much-needed money to help the borough repair damage sustained during the tornado that ripped through Queens last month.

The Oct. 14 declaration enables the city to be reimbursed for at least 75 percent of the costs for replacing or repairing such public facilities as roads, bridges and schools. The city can also be reimbursed for removing debris from public areas.

“This news comes as a great relief to New Yorkers who incurred significant damage as a result of these storms,” U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said. “Providing this much-needed assistance to the city was the right move. We still have more work to do before the mess is finally clean, but this will help.”

Gov. David Paterson asked Obama to declare New York a disaster area earlier this month. The Sept. 16 storm caused more than $27 million in damages, $17.2 million of which was in Queens, according to a report by Federal Emergency Management Agency investigators.

The tornado tore through Forest Hills, Rego Park, Maspeth, Middle Village, Flushing and Bayside. In a matter of minutes the storm packing 125 mph winds brought down more than 1,000 trees in Queens, many of which fell onto homes and crashed onto cars. Aline Levakis, 30, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., died in the storm after her car was struck by a tree on the side of the Grand Central Parkway near Jewel Avenue, according to police.

As many as 45,000 people were left without power in the five boroughs, with most of them in Queens, according to federal and state officials.

“This is certainly welcome news for New York City and removes a tremendous financial burden,” Paterson said. “The storm that spawned two tornadoes wreaked a path of devastation the likes of which New York City hasn’t seen in 25 years.”

FEMA has not yet acted on Paterson’s request for federal relief for homeowners, renters and businesses in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Federal officials said this could come at a later date after further evaluation.

“I want to thank President Obama for dispatching a team to survey the damage and for quickly reviewing New York City’s case,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “I also want to thank the hundreds of New Yorkers who picked up trees and branches in their neighborhoods and also those who called 311 to report storm damage. Those calls helped us show the survey teams the hardest hit parts of the city and helped New York City meet the application requirements for this declaration. The federal government is still considering whether to award individual assistance for those who suffered uninsured losses, and I am hopeful that request will be granted.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) also urged the federal government to come through on relief for individual residents.

“Tornadoes don’t hit New York City every day, but last month we learned the ugly and unfortunate consequences of when they do,” Crowley said. “Thanks to the federal disaster declaration, New York will now have the resources it needs to put communities affected on the road to recovery. The next step will be for FEMA to act on the request for the Individual Assistance program to ensure that affected residents and businesses can also receive the help they need.”

The Individual Assistance Program would provide disaster housing and rental assistance as well as other items such as clothing. Funds from the program would help people with disaster-related medical costs, unemployment assistance, crisis counseling and low-interest loans.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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