By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Isaias, the storm with near-hurricane force winds, battered New York City Aug. 4, left 2.5 million in the tristate without power and ripped down 21,000 trees across the five boroughs.
DC 37 members were on the front lines of the citywide cleanup, answering emergency calls, clearing uprooted trees and felled limbs that crashed onto power lines, houses, sidewalks, cars and streets.
“Isaias, I believe, did as much tree damage as Superstorm Sandy in a much shorter period of time,” said Parks Supervisors Local 1508 President Mike Zeno, who is the P.S. 2 of Queens Forestry.
In about four hours, Isaias’ strong winds and driving rain raged on the East Coast. At landfall in New York City, storm winds were 45 to 75 miles per hour and that touched off tornados, split trees and ripped them from the ground.
The Supervisors local has the hectic job of coordinating the cleanup with city agencies including the Office of Emergency Management, Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Dept. of Transportation and Police and Fire departments, Con Edison and private arborist contractors, Zeno said.
Essential 911 Emergency and 311 information operators and technicians in Local 1549 took tens of thousands of calls during the storm. Some 9,000 emergency calls reported fallen trees in Queens alone. During Sandy there were 500.
Leading New York City’s massive cleanup operation are the Dept. of Parks and Recreation’s Delta Force of Climbers and Pruners in Local 1506, along with Local 1508 Parks Supervisors.
“The priority is to clear the streets so emergency vehicles can get through,” said Local 1506 President Eric Gibson, a Parks Climber. “Before Con Ed, FDNY or Police can reach people stranded in their homes, our members are on the scene doing the hard work, the heavy lifting. The fact is no other city agency has the expertise or the equipment to do what we do.”
Climbers and Pruners crews of three to five workers use power tools and cherry pickers, ropes and muscle to lift branches and trees off houses, cars and streets. They remove uprooted trees that buckle and upend concrete sidewalks and free trees dangerously entangled in power lines. Crews chop down and feed the debris and timber into wood chippers.
These public workers removed the massive tree that crashed onto a vehicle on 84th Drive in Briarwood. Queens, and killed a 60-year-old man on impact. Firefighters cut his lifeless body out of the vehicle.
Crews also took down a huge branch that smashed onto car in Brownsville, Brooklyn, critically injuring a 49-year-old woman.
“We are vital, and in the COVID-19 pandemic the mayor classifies us as essential workers,” Gibson said. “But we feel overlooked because the City does not recognize us as emergency responders.”
Two weeks after Isaias blew through, power outages plagued neighborhoods in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.
“This is a really tough job that we will be at for days or even months to come,” Gibson said.
The crews start at 6:30 a.m. tackling fallen trees that block major routes. They work their way through the boroughs to clear local streets and sidewalks.
“Everyone is tired,” Gibson explained. “We are working 12 hours a day, six and seven days a week. But we are working smart and safely.”
“All praise goes to the Climbers and Pruners,” Zeno added. “They are relied on to do what no other city title can do to open streets, clear debris and keep people safe.
“The Parks Climbers and Pruners have stepped up to the plate and are making extraordinary efforts cleaning up Nee York City in the wake of this powerful storm,” said Zeno. “They make it look easy, but this cleanup is by no means easy work.”