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Weekend storm means good business for tree services

A tree landed on top of a car

A tree landed on top of a car parked on Chestnut Street in Massapequa, Sunday. (March 14, 2010) Photo Credit: Adam Daley

Last weekend's "ill winds" brought a little too much "good" for people who make their living trimming and removing trees.

The hundreds of downed trees across Long Island, often tangled in power lines, blocking streets or leaning on homes, have meant 16-hour workdays for Asplundh Tree Expert Co. general foreman Ralph Tessitore, 44, of Baldwin, and his three-member crew.

"We have hundreds of jobs ahead of us," Tessitore said Tuesday.

As he spoke from a job on Chester Avenue in Massapequa Park, crew foreman Raul Claros of Hicksville prepared to climb into a bucket on the end of a boom - which extends as high as 70 feet - and begin snipping away with a hydraulic stick saw at a 60-foot white oak that had fallen atop power lines and blocked the residential street.

Asplundh, an international company based near Philadelphia that employs about 26,000, is one of five private contractors working for National Grid to get trees off power lines so the utility's own crews can repair the wires and get the lights back on.

"I would say probably most of the tree work will be completed in two weeks," said Brian Fuge, an Asplundh manager for the region that covers Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan.

Asplundh works mostly for utilities and municipalities. But tree cutters who work directly for homeowners said they are just as busy, especially in communities south of the Southern State Parkway, where the damage seems most severe. There are almost 300 tree-trimming services on Long Island listed in the Yellow Pages, and at many Tuesday, phone calls were being picked up by answering machines or services.

One trimmer who answered, on a cell phone, was Gerard Arnold, owner of Arbor-Pro Tree Service in Williston Park. He said he and his three-member crew have been on the go since Sunday. He estimated he had gotten about 200 calls as of Tuesday afternoon and said it will take months for him to catch up with backlogged work.

The hardest-hit areas he said he has seen are in Baldwin, Freeport and the Five Towns.

"The Five Towns is decimated," Arnold said. "It's going to be six months before it's anywhere near normal again."

At Empire Tree Service in Seaford, co-owner Christina Warasila estimates the work backlog at "conservatively three weeks, realistically three months" and said it's been physically impossible to return all of the hundreds of phone calls received since Sunday.

"We're trying to deal with our regular customers first," she said Tuesday. "From that point on, the pecking order goes to what is most dangerous and dire, like a tree that has penetrated a home."

For now, trimmers said they are just cutting the limbs and trunks down to manageable size and piling the debris on the streets. Ultimately, some of it will be available as firewood, said Michael Martone, president of NYCFirewood.com.

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