Hurricane and Nor'easter Point Up Tree Hazards

PHOTO: This 70-foot,10-ton tree smashed through a home in Allentown, N.J., during Superstorm Sandy, nearly killing its resident.
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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 downed 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.

Snow was too much for this tree in Pam Robinson's yard in Huntington, Long Island, last week.

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."

Rich Levine, a veterinarian from Toms River, N.J., survived Sandy, but was nearly wiped out in the nor'easter.

"It was probably the most scared I have ever been," said Levine, 56, whose home is just up the street from the Johnsons in Allentown.

"I got home late and was outside starting to clear snow in the driveway," he said. "I turned around five seconds before a giant branch fell down. And it would have hurt me -- it was four or five inches around, right where I was standing seconds before."

Just a week earlier Sandy took down a 70-foot silver maple -- its base at least five feet in diameter -- narrowly missing the house, but nicking a shed, in Levine's backyard.

"It was a giant tree and if fell in the right direction, it would have crushed the house," he said. "Certainly this is the first time I was worried about being injured just by being on my property."

Still, Levine feels sentimental about the old tree that graced the backyard with shade and supported an old-fashioned swing.

"I think I am mostly sad when I look back at that silver maple because it was our favorite tree in the yard and now its half down ... It's sad when you see big trees in pieces."

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