When Hurricane Sany tore through the East Coast during the last week of October, it left so much damage in its wake that the total tab, when it’s finally tallied, will be in the billions. The superstorm severely affected seven states, with New York and New Jersey the hardest hit. Besides giant waves and storm surges that inundated coastal homes and businesses, there were high winds, driving rains, and flooding. Hundreds of thousands were without power. Thousands of people were left homeless, stranded without food, water or shelter. As of this writing, in early November, it’s estimated that more than 100 people have perished as a result of the storm.
Landscape contractors and tree service companies in all of the affected states answered the call for help; many of them going above and beyond their normal duties. And of course, they worked hard, and still are working—clearing their client’s and non-client’s properties of fallen trees, sand and debris.
Although no one wants to profit from a tragedy, there will be some net financial benefit to landscape companies, especially as the cleanup continues. But that may be balanced out by all of the man-hours that were donated to the affected communities as landscape company owners and their employees reached out to help their neighbors.
Contractors answer the call
One contractor who really went above and beyond the call is Colton Jenkins, owner of Jenkins Landscaping & Lawn Care in Groton, Connecticut. As soon as the storm’s devastation became clear, he decided to start raising money to help the victims.
“I proposed the idea to my best friend Rich Hurne and his girlfriend Bethany Silvia (co-owners of Rich’s Service Station, a Groton auto repair shop). “They were all for it, and we put it on all our Facebook pages. We started getting donations within twenty minutes.”
“It spread like wildfire, and we were able to raise about $2,000, which went to buy supplies. Donations of cash and goods came in from all over southeastern Connecticut, local residents from Norwich and Gales Ferry and Groton City, plus businesses and restaurants. Coke, Pepsi and Rockstar all got on board, too. We had a donation dropoff at Rich’s Service Center for clothes and other goods. People were lined up 30 cars back, into the street, waiting to drop donations off. It was really great,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins not only collected donations, he delivered them, paying for the gas out of his own pocket, as did Hurne. “I drove one of my work trucks loaded down with donated goods—clothes, baby supplies, cleaning supplies, bottled water—down to Jersey. The bed of the truck and the trailer were completely full. And Rich drove his company’s flatbed truck loaded with full pallets of bleach and bottled water.”
“I’ve been volunteering out in Far Rockaway, New York, helping transport diapers, blankets and bleach,” said Rosalind Ivens. She is also known as Ros the Gardener, a name she’s been doing business under for twelve years in the New York areas of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island.
“People have lost everything. Imagine having a home for 30 years, and then comes this 20-foot surge of water to take it away. Some people are going to have to completely tear down their houses, or do major rehab,” said Ivens.
“We’ve been very involved with Sandy recovery,” said Bruce Hellerick, senior horticulturalist for The Brickman Group, a landscape company headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with 160 branches in 29 states. Hellerick works out of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey divisional office in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
“A lot of our branches were impacted by the hurricane, and then the nor’easter that came through right after. The storm was very troubling, as many of our employees live right in the middle of that zone, and had damage to their homes. As a team, we’re all coming together to help not only our clients but our teammates as well. We went down to a number of our employees’ homes, taking supplies and blowers to them, so they can start drying out their houses.”
According to Hellerick, Brickman plans ahead, as many corporations do. Fortunately, they had done some thinking about worst-case scenarios. That longrange planning paid off. “One of our long-time clients is a hospital association that supplies a lot of hospitals in New Jersey.
When I asked them, ‘Is there anything we can help you with?’ they said, ‘Do you have some diesel?’ I put a call out to our people, and the next day we brought them 150 gallons of diesel fuel. It’s very important that they keep operating, and that fuel kept them going.”
Hellerick says it’s hard to wrap his mind around all the wreckage. “You just don’t think you would ever go through something like this in your life. Going through police checkpoints, you see how some areas are just devastated. You feel so bad for the folks there. We’ve pretty much tried to help people wherever we could.”
Looking out for others—that’s the impulse that guided Jenkins. “My inspiration was my Dad. He’s a Groton city police officer. When 911 happened, my Dad and my uncle both went down to New York City and helped out, representing the Groton Police Department. I saw what he did, and wanted to follow in his footsteps. When the storm hit, the city of Groton needed help removing trees,” says Jenkins. “I helped out with that, and also went around town with my Dad, helping anyone we saw who needed help. I had a couple of calls at one or two in the morning, people with trees coming down on top of their roofs. I was on-call 24 hours a day for four days straight, for anybody who needed me.”
Jenkins affirms that profit wasn’t his motive. “I certainly made out pretty well, but I wasn’t in it to make money. I just wanted to help out Groton. I gave all my customers big breaks and discounts. We put in 80 to 85 hours that first week—half of it paid work for my clients, half of it volunteer.”
The cleanup job
Sandy was certainly an apt name for this hurricane. “I have one client who lives about 50 feet from the ocean,” said Jenkins. “We probably removed 100 to 150 pounds of sand from this woman’s front lawn. It was three or four inches thick—the whole lawn, completely covered in water and sand.”
How did they get rid of all that?
“We had to hand-rake the entire front lawn—about 2,000 to 2,500 square feet on one side, probably 3,500 to 4,000 on another. Then we used backpack leaf blowers and blew it out, again and again, about six times. We raked and blew, raked and blew, until I felt comfortable that we had gotten the majority of the sand out of there. Of course, we couldn’t get it all; a lot of it stuck to the grass.”
In and around Ocean City, New Jersey, Anthony Guzzo, owner of A. Guzzo Landscaping, has put his usual jobs on hold. He’s been kept hopping, removing sand and debris from people’s homes, too. “There’s about two to two-and-a-half feet of sand on the roads, on lawns and around people’s houses. One pile of sand was four feet high.”
Besides his normal clients calling for help, word of mouth has gotten around that A. Guzzo Landscaping owns heavy equipment. Four pieces in all, front-end loaders, skid steers and Bobcats, which Guzzo and his six employees, plus six more he hired just for the emergency, have been using to move heavy, wet sand and downed trees off of people’s properties.
But sand and garbage isn’t all that the ocean deposited. What about all the salt water? “They’re going to have to rip out all the landscaping, all the shrubbery,” says Guzzo. “Salt water does real damage to lawns. Everything having to do with the landscaping is going to have to be replaced.”
Jenkins agrees. “As far as the lawn and small bushes and the like goes, anything that was covered by sea water needs to be replaced, because the salt will kill it. Salt is one of the worst things for a lawn.”
Hellerick has a more optimistic view of the brining. “A lot of the plant material along the coast is pretty adapted to sea salt,” said Hellerick. “Some of them will come out okay.”
“The salt will eventually leach out,” according to Jenkins, “but you have to make sure you water enough. There’s a fertilizer called Citron you can use that helps to wash the salt out of the soil. Then you can overseed with a slice-seeder. Once that’s done, the grass will grow back.”
When it does, it may need a new irrigation system. “The weight of the sand has broken a lot of sprinkler heads,” says Guzzo. And the pipes? “If pipes were installed properly, they should be safe from the salt. But where they weren’t, we’ve been finding problems.”
Hurricane Sandy took a big toll on trees. In New York City alone, more than 8,000 trees were toppled. And falling trees took a big toll on people, causing some of the storm’s deaths. Hellerick thinks that one of Sandy’s legacies will be that more thought is put into the placement of trees. “After the storm, I think people are going to be much more aware of how close trees are to their homes and buildings. A lot of the trees that toppled and caused damage were planted too close to homes.”
Lots of work left to do
How much longer do these landscape professionals think they’ll be working overtime, either paid or unpaid, to help clean up the mess and aid victims? Another month? Two?
“It’s gonna go on for longer than that,” said Ivens. “I think it’s gonna take the Rockaways six months to two years to get back on their feet. There’s still a lot of work that needs doing.”
Guzzo thinks he and his crew have at least another month or two of work ahead of them.
Jenkins isn’t done yet, either. “Yesterday morning we left at 7 a.m., with a truck fully laden with goods, along with a Groton city police truck that went down to New Jersey with us,” said Jenkins.
The Brickman Group has established a Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, administered through the Brickman Foundation. The fund will go to support Brickman team members and their families who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The company made an initial contribution of $10,000 to the Relief Fund, and will match dollar-for-dollar all employee contributions until the end of the year.
The fund will also enable Brickman to expand its support efforts to charitable groups that are helping with immediate, ongoing basic needs such as food, shelter, water, and other supplies.
Chances are that these contractors will still be helping out for months to come, whether it’s doing landscape work or something else their communities need. As they continue to extend themselves, these individuals and companies do honor to the landscape profession.
It isn’t all about money; there are times when human compassion comes into play . . . Hurricane Sandy pushed this one to the limit.