A massive clean-up effort continued this week in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as town and village clean-up crews struggled to finish removing the biggest obstacles remaining in roads and residents’ houses.
“The immediate goal was to clear roads and deal with public safety issues,” said Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman. “The main concern of everyone is power and that’s the thing we have the least control over at the town and village level.”
Kaiman said that for the first time in a post-storm situation, the town tree clean-up crews were permitted to “shadow” Long Island Power Authority crews as they determined whether it was safe to remove trees tangled in downed power lines. Town and village crews can only remove trees once LIPA workers have determined that lines are not carrying any electrical current.
“That did allow us to make our main roads open as soon as we had to,” Kaiman said.
The suggestion to follow that procedure was his own, Kaiman said, after stories surfaced after tropical storm Irene about town residents expressed frustration watching LIPA crews wait for tree crews to arrive before they sorted out power lines, and tree crews awaited LIPA crews.
For the most part, Kaiman said as of Monday afternoon, all town roads had been cleared of large trees and detached wires.
Kaiman said that while there was a “fairly equal distribution of damage” throughout the town, with thousands of trees felled by high winds, certain areas seemed particularly hard hit
He said areas of Great Neck, including Harbor Hills and Thomaston, has been particularly hard hit, and that portions of New Hyde Park had sustained serious damage along with “pockets” in Westbury and New Cassell. Kaiman said the Willistons and the Roslyns also had “taken a big hit.”
In New Hyde Park, the clean-up effort required removal of 70 or 80 large trees, according to Tom Gannon, village Department of Works superintendent, who said that included 20 or 30 trees that had landed on houses. All those had been removed as of Monday afternoon, he said, as well as large trees that had fallen to the ground.
“We’re pretty much into phase two, doing the ground work,” Gannon said, who said he’s had 27 or 28 village DPW and Sanitation workers on the job “from dawn until dusk” since the storm struck.
The next phase for the DPW entails removing the large stumps of trees remaining as landmarks of what the hurricane winds had brought down.
Gannon said there were a “good amount” of LIPA crews working around the village.
“We’re in a good position compared to everybody around,” Gannon said.
Within the Great Neck peninsula, several village mayors said that their departments of public works had all but completed the cleanup of public roads.
Village of Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin said the roads in Kensington had been clear since Tuesday, the day after the storm. Village of Lake Success Mayor Ronald Cooper told the Great Neck News last week that his village had also completed its cleanup.
“We were pretty much done last Wednesday,” said Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender.
But despite the quick clearing of debris from Sandy, Celender was concerned that her village was not yet out of the woods. When reached for comment, Celender was in the process of reporting a newly fallen branch to LIPA.
She said an upcoming Nor-easter, projected to hit New York on Wednesday night, could cause already damaged tree branches to fall.
One of those LIPA crews was a group of 30 men from Mississippi-based Echo Powerline that specialize in dealing with out-of-state disasters.
On Saturday, they were restoring a 4,000-volt trunk line from a substation that had gone down with the power lines pulled down by trees that also snapped utility poles like so many twigs. Foreman Roy Rogers’ men were replacing the power lines and the poles, where needed.
Rogers had worked during the aftermath of Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, and a tornado in Tuscaloosa last year. But he noted the concentrated population of the East Coast qualified Hurricane Sandy as a disaster of epic proportions.
On Sherman Street in Williston Park last Saturday, Keith Bunnell, village Department of Public Works superintendent, was overseeing the removal of some trees that hadn’t yet fallen – but had been swaying heavily in the strong winds. Bunnell and his DPW crew of 24 men had been logging long hours from Monday through Friday removing approximately 100 trees that had fallen in the village, including 30 trees that had struck houses.
“We’ve done a lot of stuff on our own. Our guys have done a terrific job,” said Village of Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar. “But there’s certain things they can’t handle.”
In this case, a crew from Atlantic Crane in Suffolk County had brought two 50-ton cranes with a pneumatic arms that towered above the nine pin oaks marked with a large white “X” for removal. Five of those same type of tree had succumbed during the storm. The others being removed might not outlast the coming nor’easter several days hence.
“They’ve all shifted. We’re lucky more didn’t go down right away. They were all going,” Bunnell said. “They either moved the curb or the sidewalk.”
The Atlantic Crane crews worked in a bucket truck, attaching a loop from the 50-ton crane to a point of the tree trunk just below its top branches. The men cut the tree with train saws just below the loop and the tree top was lowered to the ground by the long crane arm, where more men attacked it with chain saws. The loop was reattached to the top of the tree trunk, which was severed near its based and the trunk lifted by the outlandishly long crane arm, which then lowered the trunk carefully, to be sawed in two by the men below it.
The cranes had also been used in Mineola before Williston Park put them into service.
Mineola DPW head Thomas Rini, who was unavailable for comment last week, had contracted for them with Bunnell the week before the storm hit.
Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss said that planning prior to the storm had enabled his village DPW to be ready to deal with the crisis. More than 100 trees were knocked down by the hurricane winds.
But as of Tuesday, all trees impeding roads or power lines had been cleared.
“We got hit like everybody else got hit. We put a lot of resources into getting things cleared,” Strauss said. “The crews did a great job.”