Crews race to to clear downed trees on LI

Residents say in a matter of minutes, five

Residents say in a matter of minutes, five large trees fell one after another across the road on Dorothy Lane in Kings Park during Sandy. (Oct. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Safety first.

That was the message to and from crews fanning out across the region Wednesday as efforts to clear roads, cut debris off downed power lines, and remove toppled trees that blanketed homes gathered momentum.

"Everyone prides themselves on what we can do here," said Mike Riccardo, 43, an area supervisor in the Town of Oyster Bay Highway Department. "But safety's first, especially when you're only getting a few hours' sleep a night."

The crews have been starting work at 6 a.m. and continue to 8 p.m., with a short break for lunch, for as many days as it takes, Riccardo said. Wednesday, one crew's break lasted less than 20 minutes as it hustled around five sites in the morning before grabbing lunch -- maybe a power nap -- and moving on to more locations.

"You have to be like a gazelle," said equipment operator Andrew Houghton, 32, brandishing a chain saw and a smile after freeing a 60-foot oak tree from downed wires on Hilltop Lane in Bethpage.

As they worked, the radio crackled with calls from dispatchers seeking utility company assistance to address any possible gas leaks or live electric wires.

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By yesterday, all 750 miles of Oyster Bay's local roads were cleared of trees -- with the exception of a few where LIPA expertise was needed to remove them, Town Superintendent John Venditto said.

Old Bethpage resident Ray Gery, 86, was among the many grateful residents.

She watched from her front room window as a town crew and employees from Ridge-based contractor Residential Fence worked on a fallen 30-foot maple tree that grew along Serpentine Lane. The tree "kissed" the house during the height of the storm, Gery said, but her home was undamaged.

"I was on the phone with my daughter talking about how we should have had it [the tree] taken down when it went," recalled Gery, a former medical technician at the Northport VA Hospital. "I saw it coming at me -- imagine that!"

Gery said she had not stepped outside since the tree fell.

Residential Fence is one of five Island-based firms under contract with the town to assist in cleanup efforts when needed. With D.F. Stone, J.D. Posillico, Pratt Bros and Laser Industries, the five make up around 80 private contractors that are supplementing the nearly 400 town workers.

Later, a Residential Fence crew freed the home of Jeffrey Dicker on Sydney Street in Plainview.

"It'd make a great bonfire," Dicker, 37, a teacher, said as the crew reduced a 40-foot Norwood Maple that had fallen on his house to a tidy pile of wood. "I can't believe it -- these guys are even sweeping my path."

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The crew couldn't hang around for the praise.

Around the corner, another house with a fallen tree -- and an anxious homeowner -- awaited.

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