Trees in the Thousands Killed by NYC Storm
By N. R. KLEINFIELD and ELISSA GOOTMAN
Published: September 17, 2010 in The New York Times
Some were more than a century old but still sturdy and doing their jobs. Many others were young and willowy, just getting going. Some of them were inscrutable; no one truly knew them or how they got there. But others felt like old friends. They were wonderful for their blissful shade, to climb, to simply stare at and admire.
They were the most visible evidence of the fleeting but brutal storm that barged through New York City on Thursday evening: the ravaged trees.
There was a beloved scarlet oak that had stood forever in a farm family’s cemetery in Queens. There was a Callery pear that parrots preferred on a street in Brooklyn. Trees that had stories to them that were now prematurely finished.
The tragedy of the storm was Aline Levakis, 30, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., the sole person to die, when a tree, as it happened, crushed her car on the Grand Central Parkway.
Buildings and houses were severely damaged, thousands of customers lost electricity and many commuters were inconvenienced.
But destroyed were thousands of trees — trees torn out of sidewalks, others flung 30 or 40 feet through the air, still others shorn of branches, cracked in two.
On Friday, as the city plowed ahead in the painstaking process of cleaning up the wreckage and repairing damage, it was still too early to tabulate a reliable tree death count. The city has over 100 species and more than five million trees, some as old as 250. Clearly the loss was great.
Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, estimated that as many as 2,000 of the 650,000 street trees had been killed or else so crippled that they would have to be cut down. Mr. Benepe said hundreds of the two million trees in the parks were killed or damaged beyond hope. Hundreds more lost limbs.
Storms periodically batter the city’s trees. A freak storm in August of last year toppled about 500 trees in Central Park.
The storm on Thursday left Manhattan and the Bronx virtually unscathed but was merciless in the other boroughs.
“It’s hard to compare to previous storms,” Mr. Benepe said, “but given the brevity of the storm, the extent of the damage seems unparalleled.”
As workers began carving up the trees and trucking them away, they found decimated oaks, Norway maples, catalpas, and more and more.
Mr. Benepe said the older, larger trees, like the maples, oaks and London planes that were planted along city streets, suffered worst. They have a lot of leaf surface that catches the wind, and they are inflexible.
Many Callery pears, with their showy white blossoms, also went. Although smaller, they are weak-wooded. The storm wiped out a dozen or so willow trees lining Willow Lake and Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. Some of them fell into the lakes.
On the blocks around Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village, Queens, hundreds of elderly elms, oaks and maples succumbed. Youngsters — 7 to 10 years old — were yanked out like matchsticks and whipped through the area.
Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, walked around the bruised neighborhood on Friday snapping pictures of fallen timber.
One majestic tree, regarded as the neighborhood’s treasure, was an immense scarlet oak in the Pullis Farm Cemetery, an early American farm family burial ground. It was believed to be more than 110 years old. It was a beauty, just about perfectly symmetrical.
“When you touched the tree, you felt like you were touching a part of the 19th century,” Mr. Holden said.
The storm tore it down, ending its long life in a blink.
“This hit me the hardest,” Mr. Holden said. “Some people said can we pick it up and put it back? But you can’t.”
In All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village stood another cherished tree, a towering live oak thought to be 180 years old. It was about 90 feet tall. After the storm, all that remained was the bottom 12 feet.
“It was a cool-looking tree,” said Daniel C. Austin Jr., the cemetery’s vice president. “It had these beautiful arms. Every time we drove by it, we used to talk about it.”
Grief was palpable in Forest Hills Gardens, a private nest of Tudor and Georgian homes in Queens that is one of the city’s greenest neighborhoods, home to hundreds of trees. It was only recently that the residents’ association planted 70 more — maples, oaks and London planes. These newcomers, so much life left in them, bore the brunt of the storm.
Edward and Vera Ward, who live just outside the enclave, stroll through the neighborhood every day, drawn by the serenity and welcoming shade of the tall trees. On Friday, Mr. Ward, 58, was snapping pictures of men sawing a supine tree into bits.
“It’s like a part of me is gone,” he said, and his eyes welled up.
Another elderly man was mourning a maple tree that he had planted outside his house on Dartmouth Street when he was a teenager. It grew as he grew. It was one more that the storm took.
In Park Slope, Brooklyn, a Callery pear tree stands across the street from the house of Nick Lerman, 27, a Brooklyn College student. Almost two-thirds of its canopy had been ripped off.
“I’m looking at maybe 37 percent of a tree,” Mr. Lerman said. “Now it kind of looks like a bald guy with half a tonsure.”
He said parrots shuttled back and forth from the tree to the one across from it. He said he hoped that the tree would live, that the parrots would still have it.
Reuben Slater had his own tree-loss story. He is 13 and lives in Park Slope. When he walks to school, he passes a massive ash tree with a trunk that gives way to branches that form a V. When he was younger, he thought of it as the tree of life.
The storm carved off half the V. The tree is expected to survive, but to no longer resemble its old self. That saddens Reuben. He sees a tree “with a broken arm.”
He snatched a small branch off the ground. He said he would keep it in his room. “I’m going to name it Pablo,” he said. “I’ve always loved that name.”