Thursday, September 23, 2010

Howard Beach Woman Lucky to Survive Storm

By Patricia Adams

For most Howard Beach residents, Thursday’s storm was something to talk about. They watched the news in amazement as a tornado touched down in several neighboring communities and were thankful it didn’t stop in their neck of the woods.

But for one Howard Beach woman, there was no need for talking, TV news reports, Facebook, Twitter or You Tube storm videos--she was in the eye of the storm and lived to talk about it.

“I thought to myself, this is how I am going to die, I’m never going to see my family again,” said Christine Modafferi, recalling what ran through her mind when she was forced to pull over on the Grand Central Parkway late Thursday afternoon.

After starting her daily commute from work at TD Bank on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she became frustrated by a traffic buildup and changed her normal route home. “I always take the 59th Street Bridge but I decided to try the Grand Central Parkway instead.”

Modafferi said the rain was fairly light but grew much heavier as she got closer to the Queens Boulevard exit. Before the split at the Van Wyck Expressway and the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the sky grew totally black and there was no visibility. “I could barely see the lights of the car ahead of me, but he pulled over and I pulled in behind him.”

Describing fierce wind and deafening noise she remembered debris flying around and bouncing off the car. “There was hail--I couldn’t see it but I knew what it was—it sounded like it was the size of a watermelon,” recalled Modafferi. “I just waited for the car to blow away.”
There was so much noise she said she still doesn’t know how she heard the crack of the massive tree standing on the side of the parkway. “I heard this sound and from the corner of my eye, I saw it coming. I ducked and crouched down into the wheel.”

When the tree crashed through the double moon roof of her brand new Cadillac, Christine Modafferi chipped three teeth as she bit down in a panic trying to avoid being crushed.
“The next thing I knew, there was a man screaming outside my car. I realized I didn’t die.” But the relief of being alive was cut short with the realization she was trapped in the car. Unable to open her doors she screamed back to the man outside the car. “You can’t leave me. You’ve got to get me out of here.” Her hands and head were bleeding and she was covered in glass.

A few minutes later, Modafferi was helped out through the back of the vehicle. “I stepped away from the car and got a sick sense of what could have happened.” Some feet away another car had pulled over behind her.

“I was sick to know there was a young woman trapped in the car behind me.” Modafferi explained that police at the scene kept coming over to her to remind her how lucky she was to be alive. “They [police] kept telling me that the woman in the car was turning blue—they couldn’t get to her.”

She climbed into a car that had pulled over to help. “This couple pulled over and they helped me call my husband. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t even use the phone.” Meanwhile, Christine’s husband Bob, a retired firefighter, was making his way from Howard Beach to the accident scene.

One of the most horrible parts of her ordeal was watching the husband of the woman who was still trapped as he paced along the parkway, crying and unable to help his wife. “I couldn’t even see her car. The car was completely covered in trees. Civilians kept trying to get her out.”

And so, while nearby Middle Village and Forest Hills residents continue to try and get back to normal, Christine Modafferi is spending a lot of time offering thanks. “I feel more than lucky. I am thankful to God for saving my life.”

Beyond that she says one thing is for sure—“I will never, ever, ever sweat the little things. I am just so grateful to be alive.”

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