Hurricane and Nor’easter Underscore Tree Hazards
(NEW YORK) -- Bob Johnson and his wife Pegi were watching television weather coverage in their Allentown, N.J., home waiting out superstorm Sandy, when they saw flame-like sparks on electrical lines across the street.
"It was about 7:30 and we were talking about how so far we had escaped things around here," said Johnson, a 65-year-old retiree.
Johnson walked into the living room to find his neighbor's phone number, then stood in the doorway to make a call.
"In a span of a second, the power and the phone went out," he said. "The lights went out and 'crash, tinkle, tinkle' -- stuff was falling through the glass skylight and I yelled, 'Peg, there's a tree in the living room.'"
A 70-foot pin oak, 29 inches in diameter, ripped up 20-feet of sidewalk and plunged through the Johnson's roof, knocking out shelves, smashing furniture and burying the floor in sheet rock.
The tree had missed him by five feet. "Except for the grace of God, I would have been killed," he said. "I was in shock."
Bob and Pegi Johnson were relieved that the tree that hit their house didn't kill them.
It's not a stretch to say that on the East Coast, people are suddenly afraid of their once majestic trees, which were responsible for numerous deaths throughout the region.
"I view all trees as weapons at the moment," said Pegi Johnson, 65. "I hope never to hear that loud crash again. It took a split second to realize what had happened and to see how closely I came to actually being a widow."
In Princeton, N.J., William Sword Jr., 61, was killed by a falling tree when he went out to clear debris from another felled tree.
And in New York, two boys, ages 11 and 13, were killed when a tree struck their Westchester home where they were hunkered down in the family room.
Jessie Streich-Kest and her friend Jacob Vogelman, both 24, died underneath the weight of a fallen tree in Brooklyn, N.Y., when they were out walking her dog.
And in Queens, 29-year-old Tony Laino was killed after a huge tree crashed through his two-story house, pinning him in his bedroom.
Trees that have adorned suburban neighborhoods for years have been unearthed in two back-to-back storms, first superstorm Sandy and then a nor'easter.
Pam Robinson, a 60-year-old editor from Huntington, Long Island, was out of power for eight days during Sandy and again when six inches of heavy snow fell last week -- all because of downed trees and power lines.
One tree was so heavy with snow it collapsed on her lawn.
"We had a guy killed in town last week when a tree fell in his driveway," she said. "He was a healthy guy, trying to leave with his family -- you can get killed walking your dog."
Tree specialists who are backed up with business say that homeowners are so terrified that they are asking to have other looming trees taken down.
"People are very paranoid about their trees," said Betty Stillwell of Arbor Vision tree service in New Egypt, N.J. "Basically they want anything that is going to fall and hit their house taken down."
Bob and Pegi Johnson are taking no chances, knowing that another storm could bring down other large trees with shallow roots growing between the street and the sidewalk.
Their neighbors have already discussed taking down a looming tree, fearing it will come down. After firefighters and police arrived to evacuate the Johnsons, friends took them in and have fed and housed them for two weeks.
Days later when clean-up crews arrived to remove the tree from the roof, the crane was too small. They estimated the oak weighed 10 tons.
Johnson and his wife expect to get insurance coverage, but won't seek help from FEMA, even though they would likely qualify.
"I almost feel guilty with others who have no home -- people who lost everything," he said.
"All in all, the lesson I have learned is that I am grateful to be alive," said his wife, Pegi. "What we gained is appreciation of friends who have gone over and above any expectation to help us out. That is a real eye opener and I know that I, at least, will pay it forward at any opportunity I can."
Her husband agrees his brush with death was "unsettling," and makes them think twice about nature. But, said Bob Johnson, a former science teacher, "It's not the tree's fault."
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