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Priorities shift after tempest (Live Blog)

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Traffic is backed up on the Long Island Expressway as all vehicles are forced to exit at the Van Dam Street because the Queens Midtown Tunnel was closed. Photo by Steven Malecki
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Only rubble remains at the site where more than 100 houses were destroyed by fire in Breezy Point. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Cars line up to get gas on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. Photo by Steven Malecki
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A wall surrounding a parking lot of the Surfside Motel in Howard Beach is toppled. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Two trees block 225th Street in Laurelton. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A tree lies on top of a car at 49th Street and Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside. Photo by Steven Malecki
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A large tree is toppled on 28th Street in Astoria. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A tree rests against houses on 29th Street in Astoria. Photo by Christina Santucci

No section of Queens completely escaped the wrath of Superstorm Sandy and emergency crews worked through the week to contain the smoldering cinders that once were Breezy Point homes, restore power to the roughly 112,000 customers without power and clear the thousands of trees that crushed cars and houses while blocking roads.

But as the borough shifted into recovery mode, new problems emerged.

Blackened chimneys stood as otherworldy markers of houses and bungalows in Breezy Point, on the western tip of the Rockaways, after fierce winds whipped flames into an inferno that consumed about 100 homes Monday night.

Gerard Casey did not heed the mayor’s evacuation orders and awoke Tuesday to the smoking ruins and flooded homes.

“We stayed. We shouldn’t have, but we got lucky,” he said.

Farther east, flooding in other parts of the Rockaways claimed several lives as the storm surge from Sandy flooded basements and first floors, trapping numerous residents inside.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 37 known deaths in the city, with at least seven in Queens.

As the days passed, residents on the peninsula began running out of food, according to state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park), who called on the city to set up distribution centers in the area. A nursing home in the Rockaways reportedly did not evacuate patients, who were stuck without power or running water, according to a shocked employee. The Queens district attorney indicted more than a dozen residents and charged them with looting.

Consolidated Edison expected to have power restored to lower Manhattan by Saturday, but projected most downed overhead lines, which litter the streets of Queens, would not be repaired until Nov. 11.

Some areas affected by downed lines will be without power even longer, the utility said. Queens was particularly affected because of the number of trees felled by the storm, and as of Thursday afternoon about 90,000 customers were still without power.

In fact, about half of the 10,500 fallen trees reported in the city were from the borough, the mayor said Wednesday.

In sections like Fresh Meadows, Auburndale and eastern Flushing trees were blocking roads at seemingly every turn. On 194th Street a family watched a behemoth crush their car and take out live overhead lines.

Gas shortages began gripping Queens and Long Island Thursday, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey had been closed. The senator vowed to get the crucial fuel flowing in the coming days.

Public transportation slowly crawled back to life in the wake of the storm, after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority worked to clear the flooded train tunnels leading from Queens to Manhattan and ran tests on switches and signals. MTA Commissioner Joseph Lhota called the damage unprecedented in the subway’s 108-year history.

The borough’s streets were choked with traffic in the days following the storm, and the mayor announced that any car traveling over a bridge to Manhattan had to be carrying at least three people in order to cut down on the number of vehicles.

By Thursday all area airports were at least operating at limited capacity, although LaGuardia was the last to open up after suffering from extensive flooding.

In Flushing, a large tree fell onto a house where 29-year-old Tony Laino was resting on a couch. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and neighbors of his devastated family said Laino’s father had been asking the city to remove the large tree for decades.

A portion of South Richmond Hill was without power Thursday after a 23-year-old woman named Lauren Abraham was electrocuted by downed wires on 105th Avenue, and her body was set ablaze and burnt for almost two hours before emergency crews could shut down the power.

The streets of Long Island City and Hunters Point were submerged under water after rising tides soaked the area. Many residents who lived near the edge decided to stay and risk the rising water, and power remained out for many in the high-rise condos for days afterward.

But the offices of numerous elected officials and organizations began collecting food and clothing for the displaced residents of the Rockaways, Broad Channel and Howard Beach.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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