When a Tornado in Queens Becomes an International Incident

The savage tornado that ripped through Brooklyn and Queens in September did not just fell some 3,000 trees and damage many houses.

It also wiped the country of Sri Lanka off the face of the earth — the earth, that is, as represented by the giant globe that is the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.

The tornado blew down several hundred trees in that park alone and whipped through the Unisphere, tearing off a contoured stainless steel plate that for more than four decades had peacefully existed just off the southern coast of a much larger steel plate in the shape of India.

“The tornado ripped Sri Lanka right off the Unisphere,” said Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The winds also snapped one of the structural cables on the 12-story-high, spherical stainless steel monument that was built for the 1964 World’s Fair, when Sri Lanka was still known as Ceylon.

The geometric, Beaux-Arts-inspired Unisphere is covered with large steel shapes simulating the continents, complete with topography. It is one of the world’s largest global structures — 140 feet high, 700,000 pounds, with a diameter of 120 feet — and it is the only officially designated city landmark in the park.

The Unisphere symbolized the beginning of the space age and represented the fair’s theme of interdependence and “peace through understanding.” But Mr. Benepe avoided drawing any real-life global parallels to all this.

“It was an act of God,” he said of the tornado, “possibly related to global warming.”

Mr. Benepe was contacted by a reporter after a crew of workers using a large crane to repair the structure was observed on Wednesday. Sri Lanka had just been welded back into place, one worker said, and the crane was dangling a walk-in bucket down the western face of the globe, from which a parks department worker was repairing a cable running from the globe structure to one of the three large orbit rings that encircle it.

The repair of the Unisphere accompanies a larger sprucing-up of the immediate area, just to the south of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where the United States Open tennis tournament begins next Monday.

The Unisphere sits in a circular reflecting pool and is surrounded by a series of water-jet fountains renovated last year. For the past several years, the fountains were turned on only sporadically because they had become leaky, Mr. Benepe said. But the department has kept them on most days this summer.

Siri Heenpella, 62, a Sri Lankan immigrant in Woodhaven, Queens, called the restoring of his homeland to the Unisphere “a moment of recognition,” and he cited the civil unrest in the country in recent decades.

“After so many years of civil war in our country, many Sri Lankans feel like the world ignores us,” said Mr. Heenpella, a mortgage broker and Realtor. “So in this situation, that the city feels it is worth putting back up on the globe, it’s really unbelievable for us.”

A worker at the site had wondered if anyone would notice the piece missing if it were never reattached. Mr. Benepe had an opinion on this.

The monument, he said, is “in the borough with the greatest ethnic diversity.”

“If any New York City park is going to have visitors who notice Sri Lanka is missing from a globe,” Mr. Benepe said, “it’s Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.”

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