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Tropical Storm Isaias batters Bellmore-Merrick

Downed trees cut power, block traffic in the hamlets

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Navigating Bellmore-Merrick’s side streets in the days after Tropical Storm Isaias was like being caught in a dizzying maze.

Drivers were forced to turn around at the sight of downed trees marked off with yellow caution tape; pedestrians sidestepped electrical wires on residential sidewalks, uncertain if they were live; and those who live on dead-end blocks relied on neighbors to bring food and supplies, because storm debris prevented vehicles from passing through.

“This is the biggest thing since Sandy,” said Jessica Wilkinson.

The North Merrick resident — along with her two toddlers — stayed with her in-laws in North Bellmore after the storm because that area still had power. The wind gusts that Isaias whipped up on Aug. 4 caused outages on Wilkinson’s entire block and leveled a tree in her backyard. Her husband, Sean, an NYPD officer, was stranded in the city until the night of Aug. 5, because the Long Island Rail Road wasn’t operating.

“Living without power poses some difficulties to keep [the kids] entertained,” Wilkinson said. “I just can’t wait to go home.”

Assessing the damage the day after the storm, this reporter came across multiple downed trees, frayed wires and splintered utility poles in Bellmore and Merrick. In North Merrick, a felled tree knocked out a pole at the intersection of Lindgren Street and Elsie Avenue.

“It’s just a nightmare,” said Michelle Moss, of south Merrick. “This is the house I grew up in. We’ve had other storms where the power would go out, but nothing like this.”

Moss said the power loss was likely caused by a felled tree on James Street, which intersects with the end of her block, Colonial Avenue. When the tree came down, it “ripped out two utility polls and a big portion of the sidewalk, and tore wires off a nearby house.” “This one’s pretty ugly,” she said of the storm.

On the morning of Aug. 6, a PSEG worker came to Moss’s block to assess the damage, but was unaware of the downed tree at Colonial and James, since there was “no report about” it, Moss recalled. “When I took him down to the end of the block and he saw that tree, he said it had to be a priority. The lack of communication is worse than anything else.”

North Bellmore resident Arlene Gitter said her electricity went out at 1:14 p.m. the day of the storm. Seconds before, a tree in front of Rutler Street home was walloped by the strong winds. But since the top of the tree was caught in adjacent electrical wires, “it didn’t make a big bang” when it fell, she said. “There was a car underneath it, but when they pulled it out [Thursday] morning, it wasn’t even damaged.”

The trunk, however, was sizable enough that it blocked the dead-end street. Gitter said that on Aug. 4 an ambulance tried to reach one of her neighbors on the other end of the block, but had to find an alternate route because of the downed tree.

As of Thursday, Gitter had no electric, phone or Internet service. “I haven’t been able to speak to [PSEG] at all,” she said. “I can’t get online to report, so I rely on whatever my neighbors [hear].”

Merrick resident Cindy Chertock had similar problems in the wake of Isaias. She lives on Ripley Avenue, a cul de sac off Merrick Avenue, so when the large tree in front of her house came down, it trapped her and her seven neighbors with no power and no way out.

“Not being able to get off the block is very nerve-racking,” she said. “My next-door neighbor has an elderly parent in the home who needs chemo — he doesn’t know how he’s going to get him there.”

The Nassau County Police Department reported the felled tree on Ripley to PSEG after waiting on the phone for nearly five hours, Chertock said, but when she followed up with the utility two days later, they said they had “no record of any problem.”

“I don’t understand how such a large corporation . . . is unresponsive to their customers during times of crisis,” she said. “If we had gotten . . . an answer, my whole block would’ve been OK, but you can’t even get through to them to tell them that you have an outage. It’s absolutely insane.”

Resident Marcia DiTieri has been nursing a 20-foot-tall willow tree in her backyard since the day of the storm. It stood on her property for 10 years, but Isaias’s “crazy” winds uprooted it about halfway, she said. “I’ve never lost a tree before.”

DiTieri lives in the North Merrick Campgrounds, also known as Tiny Town, where trees abound. She explained that unless environmental issues are addressed and trees are conserved, future weather events would only get “worse and worse and worse.”

“The aftermath of this storm wouldn’t have happened if we protected the trees — [they’re] supposed to block the wind and slow down the wind velocity,” she said. “The hurricanes we get are going to be very destructive because of this warmer climate, but conservation can block the devastation from future hurricanes.”