As the wind wailed outside Monday night, David Melendez kept a watchful eye on the unstable tree violently snapping back and forth and threatening to slam through the window panes of his family’s second-story balcony in the Clason Point section of the Bronx.
Then came the big boom. Melendez and his neighbors in the three-story building ran outside to see that the tree had fallen in the gap between their building and the two-story residence next door on White Plains Road, crushing a black iron rod fence, smashing a row of plastic garbage bins and killing a power line. Fortunately, its thick trunk narrowly missed both structures and didn’t injure any people.
“We just said it’s a miracle,” said Melendez, 43, who had bags and extra baby food packed in case his family needed to clear out of their place because of storm damage. “We were just hoping that the tree didn’t hit the house itself. I think we got really lucky that it didn’t.”
For residents like Melendez not living within high-risk flood zones, falling trees and power outages were among the biggest threats as Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Northeast.
New York City had received more than 7,000 reports of damaged trees or limbs by about 6 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at an evening press conference. He urged residents to keep out of city parks as workers continue to clear the debris and secure the areas.
“Trees were down all over the place; they fell on cars and houses. Power lines were down all over the place. It’s going to take a few days before we’re back to even normal,” said Community Board 9 District Manager Francisco Gonzalez, who has been surveying the Clason Point, Soundview and Harding Park areas by car. “Luckily nobody got hurt. That’s the most important thing.”
The tree damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been, Gonzalez said, because storms that have rolled through the Bronx over the past three years have helped clear out dead trees.
Power outages affected more than 49,000 customers in the Bronx, or 11.6 percent of Bronx customers served by Con Edison, as of 6:45 p.m. Tuesday. More than 660,000 customers across the city still had no electricity. Sandy shattered the previous record number of power outages in Con Edison city territory set last year, when Hurricane Irene cut power to 203,000 customers.
Margaret Wilburn, a woman in her 60s in the Harding Park neighborhood, said she lost power around 8:30 p.m. Monday and still had no electricity as of late Tuesday afternoon. She said she chose not to leave the area because she didn’t want to leave her 10 dogs alone.
Some homes overlooking the East River in the southern tip of Clason’s Point also had major flood damage.
Abdul Nashir, whose home is about 150 feet from the waterfront in Harding Park — where the tide grew so high that waves splashed against park benches Tuesday — evacuated the area around 6 p.m. Sunday and took shelter in the 99-cent store he owns on Soundview Avenue. The water inside his house rose to about one foot, damaging all the carpeting, soaking the furniture and flooding a room under renovation. He comes back and forth to check on the house, his family is staying in the store until the house gets cleaned up.
Alexander Knights, 87, lives in the two-story apartment next door to the Melendez family. One of the big fallen tree’s branches clipped his roof and ripped a hole in his awning, but he’s not planning on repairing it because he’s worried about his insurance cost going up. He’s not sure when city maintenance workers will arrive to deal with the tree. Police officers arrived Tuesday afternoon to wrap yellow caution tape around the tree and power cables hanging loosely around its snapped roots.
“The city has so much going on,” Knights said. “I don’t think they’ll be here for a while.”
Calls from residents have started pouring in about how to get federal assistance for storm damage, Gonzalez said. He advised residents with property damage to call their local community board office for assistance in applying for federal aid. The Community Board 9 can be reached at 718-823-3034.
For more information on qualifying for disaster assistance, http://www.disasterassistance.gov/.
Bronx Ink staff writers Sadef Kully, Ana Ionova, Sonia Paul and Yi Du contributed to this report.