Joey Mure/Associated Press
The New York Times
A second tornado touched down in Canarsie, Brooklyn, the National Weather Service said.
The swirling columns of wind and water in Queens, captured by dozens of people on cellphone cameras and almost instantly posted on the Internet, lasted only minutes, according to witnesses. But in that short time the tornado tore down walls, lifted roofs off homes and tangled power lines as it cut a path through the Rockaways, near Breezy Point.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who arrived in Breezy Point on Saturday afternoon to assess the damage, said there had been no reports of injuries.
Helen Vesik, 58, was in her cabana at the Breezy Point Surf Club when she saw a white waterspout form over the ocean around 11 a.m. — speeding in her direction.
“I was afraid, and I knew I had to go,” she said.
Ms. Vesik ran to the main clubhouse just as the tornado hit the club’s pool, sending streams of water into the air.
She said she crouched on the bathroom floor until the wind eased.
When she emerged, part of a concrete wall near the pool had been toppled. Barbecue grills and beach chairs had been flung across the grounds, hundreds of feet from where they had been when the storm hit.
The Queens tornado hit land with winds of about 70 miles an hour, Ross Dickman, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said at a news conference at the Breezy Point Surf Club on Saturday. It was a weak tornado, Mr. Dickman said, measuring a zero out of five on theenhanced Fujita scale, which is used to gauge tornado strength.
It was 50 feet across and touched ground for only 600 feet, Mr. Dickman said.
David Dempsey, 49, of Chatham, N.J., who watched the tornado from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, said, “This big, black cloud started going toward the ground and then I saw the funnel.”
“It was kind of neat,” he added. “I’d never seen one before. It was cool to watch it developing.”
The second tornado struck Brooklyn about 11:30 a.m. with a speed of 110 miles an hour and traveled about half a mile, the Weather Service said. The severe weather was expected to continue into the night as a cold front moving in from the west made its way into the area, meeting up with the warm, moist air ahead of it and causing instability in the atmosphere.
The storm delayed the start of the United States Open and forced the women’s singles final to be postponed until Sunday. Late in the afternoon, another approaching storm prompted the suspension of the semifinal match between Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer.
The Weather Service issued several tornado warnings throughout the day, including into Saturday evening, covering parts of Queens, Westchester County and Rockland County in New York and Fairfield and New Haven Counties in Connecticut.
In addition to high winds, people could expect severe thunderstorms, heavy rains in some places and even the possibility of hail, the Weather Service said.
The storm system stretched from northern Vermont to parts of Georgia, the Weather Service said, and there were reports of high winds causing damage from Scranton, Pa., to Buffalo.
Christopher R. Miller, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said there had been reports of minor damage elsewhere in Queens and in Canarsie. There were also sporadic power failures, he said.
Donna Sullivan, who lives in Breezy Point, said she had watched the spout lift kayaks 40 feet out of the water. Elsewhere in Queens, as water rushed into the lobby and basement of an apartment building at 68-12 Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills, a porter, Herbert Dieguez, said he heard screams.
In the basement, Mr. Dieguez, 38, found a tenant trapped in an elevator, the water up to her neck and rising.
He pried open the doors, he said, and swam her to safety.
“She almost died,” Mr. Dieguez said. “I had to go into the elevator to save her life.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 8, 2012
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the number of property damage reports after the tornado. Christopher R. Miller, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management, did not specify how many reports had been made.