As many Commack residents are looking ahead to the holidays and moving forward with rebuilding from the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, there are others who are still out and fighting the aftermath of the storm on a daily basis.
Ron Strauss, owner of Tree Believers in Commack, said his crews are the storms "secondary responders" who are working 7 days a week to help Long Island recover.
"We are still out there fighting a battle in backyards across Long Island and its invisible unless we are in your backyard. It's as real as any other battle," Strauss said. "At this point, anyone with a truck and a trimmer has to go out there and take down trees."
Strauss, a certified arborist, said he began receiving phone calls to take care of fallen trees while Sandy's winds were still going strong. He called his workers in from Brentwood and nearby towns to report to his house. Many had to park their car at some point and walk before using Tree Believers' equipment to clear the roadways and start cleaning up after Sandy.
More than a month later, the phone calls haven't stopped.
He has stacks of work orders by his phones, customers calling desperate to remove fallen trees and fix their properties. Strauss said he can't guarantee a date of when he will be available but rather is prioritizing things by a triage system.
"Security and safety is first. Anyone in danger goes to the top of the priority list," Strauss said. "We can’t tell what day we will get to you but we can tell you what week."
The overwhelming demand has lead to a change of business practices. Strauss, who believes in tree preservation, said he normally would handle his client's property with 'kid gloves' to prevent as much damage as possible, but has started using heavy equipment to get trees removed as quickly as possible.
The business owner also said he's pushed his workers to finish jobs in 2-3 days that would ordinarily take 5-6 days. Hurricane Sandy has led to longer work days and feeding his crews homemade sandwiches to shorten lunch breaks.
"It’s amazing how much debris and brush is coming out of these properties, particularly on the north shore," Strauss said.
Adding to the work of tree trimmers and debris cleanup across Long Island is a new fear, a fear of large trees created by Hurricane Sandy. It is a problem both Strauss and Glenn Jorgensen, Town of Smithtown's Highway Department, are struggling to combat.
"Tree crews are going to homes where one tree was uprooted but people are getting nervous when they see the damage created by trees, so they add on extra tree removal," Jorgensen said.
The Highway supervisor estimates he still has another 3,000 to 4,000 tree stumps to remove from roadsides before he is finished.
Strauss has a a simple term for this reaction to Hurricane Sandy, calling it "Hysteria of Trees." He said its a real palpable fear that needs to be addressed.
"It can be defused but not entirely defeated. Next time the wind picks up to 25 mph, those people are imagining that tree is going to go through their roof," he said.
As a arborist who specializes in tree preservation, Strauss said he is having a difficult time seeing how the heavy impact of Hurricane Sandy coupled with this Hysteria of Trees is changing the landscape of Long Island.
"I’m passionate about trees To see what cultivates in my life’s work smashed and destroyed results in heartache," Strauss said. "There are neighborhoods that are unrecognizeable now and will never look the same again."
He estimates that Long Island's cleanup from Hurricane Sandy's tree and brush debris won't really be finished till the spring, only in time to start replanting what was lost.
Strauss said for homeowners looking to replace lost trees, he advised them to stay away from the following trees: flowering pear, Leyland cypress, emerald green arbor. While widely sold, he said these trees are not well suited for Long Island's soil and climate and will lead to further problems in the future.