Fierce rain, forceful gusts topple towering Sedgwick tree


The soggy solstice of this so-far freakish winter has been wet, wild and odd, with unnervingly mild temperatures, impetuous winds, buckets of rain — and for some Sedgwick Avenue residents, a massive felled tree that tore down wires and fractured utility poles, to boot.

Con Edison received a report about the downed timber — on Sedgwick Avenue between Stevenson Place and Van Cortlandt Avenue West — from the city’s fire department just before 6 a.m., on Friday, Allan Drury, spokesman for the utility company, said.

ConEd was still on the scene replacing a pole and will remain there that evening, Drury added, but there were no reports of customers losing power. Nor were there any injuries or car damage, said Crystal Howard, spokeswoman for the city’s parks department, attributing the felled tree to rain and wind.

The parks department was notified about the tree around 3 p.m., Howard added, and promptly cleared it away. Typically when a tree hits a ConEd line, the parks department has to wait for ConEd to remove the tree from the line before doing any work.

“ConEd responded pretty quickly, and then parks came out and cleared the rest of the tree from the street,” Howard said. “They had to clear the hazard. When anything touches ConEd wires, we have to allow the experts at ConEd to address that.”

Once that’s done, parks’ forestry team is able to come and tackle the remaining tree debris, Howard said, adding that residents concerned about a specific tree — in a non-emergency situation — can report it to the city for foresters to inspect how the tree’s doing health-wise. This applies to trees in both parks and on streets.

“When a tree actually falls, like the one that fell today, certainly, if it’s an emergency situation, we want New Yorkers to actually call 911,” Howard said. “But because we’re actually on the tail end of this rainstorm, our parks crew was able to get out there and address this tree once ConEd was able to remove the hazard.”

Despite no injuries or car damage, the tree still made a royal mess of rush hour, said resident Gary Axelbank, who was up around 6 a.m., just after the tree came crashing down.

Axelbank peered out his window overlooking Sedgwick, where he spotted a bus that, in the pre-dawn darkness, he thought was jackknifed and stalled.

“That’s probably going to back up traffic,” Axelbank recalled thinking, but had no idea strong gusts had knocked down a tree until later when his wife went downstairs. It created pure traffic mayhem, with a whole line of buses headed north on Sedgwick jammed.

“Must’ve been 10 or 12 buses backed up at least until Fort Independence,” Axelbank said.

Later that afternoon yellow tape still cordoned off the area as ConEd workers in fluorescent vests and blue hard hats secured one of the damaged poles pending a replacement.

David Sanabria had traveled all the way from Jackson Heights to work at one of the street’s residential buildings hauling out garbage, but with the street blocked off, there wasn’t much he and the rest of his crew could do, he said, making for a more relaxed shift than usual.

In a word, “Chillin’,” Sanabria said. But that tree? “It’s crazy.”

In pattering rain, sawdust muck covered the asphalt mixed with chunks of rotten trunk and saturated brown leaves. Elsewhere, damaged wires lay strewn about amidst scattered tools. A truck’s motor roared.

“There’s no relief, but I’m happier to hear it was a tree down and wasn’t a bus incapacitated where no one could figure out how to get it towed out of there,” Axelbank said. “I just hope we have natural emergencies we (know how to) deal with and police and firefighters respond.”

In this case, Axelbank said, they did just that, and quickly, with emergency workers promptly cordoning off the area with yellow tape to keep residents and drivers out of peril’s way, while they rerouted traffic.

“It was definitely wild for the morning rush,” Axelbank said. Some drivers appeared to try — or thought they could — circumvent the mess. “And all of a sudden they couldn’t,” including a large truck that had to back up on Sedgwick.

Vincent Mazzamuto, who owns the Sedgwick Pharmacy, hadn’t arrived until after the fall, but later stood outside assessing the wreckage.

“It probably was in bad shape,” Mazzamuto said of the tree. “It just needed a little bad weather for it to go. It’s a problem because I have a pharmacy and have no internet and phone service. But I’m hoping (the provider is) going to restore it as quickly as possible.”

It’s the first time Mazzamuto remembers ever seeing a tree casualty of this caliber on Sedgwick. “It definitely created a lot of damage.”

It may have been a couple of dumpsters next to the curb, blocking parking, that prevented some residents’ cars from being utterly crushed, Mazzamuto added.

While Mazzamuto hadn’t lost power, he worried about his customers unable to reach him to get their medication. “Obviously, my concern right now is my phone, and cable,” he said. “People are probably calling right now wondering, ‘Where are they?’ We’ll see what happens.”

Deni Paulino, barber at the just-opened eponymously named barbershop and beauty salon on Sedgwick, feared the tree’s collapse wasn’t an auspicious beginning for the nascent business, which was empty that afternoon.

“There haven’t really been any problems, yet,” Paulino said in Spanish. “But it could have an effect, because people don’t have access” to the street.

The city could do a better job keeping an eye on ailing trees to prevent them from toppling before the wind gets the best of them, he added.

Yari Andujar, who lives on Sedgwick overlooking where the tree fell, was devastated.

“Oh, my tree,” Andujar said. “I’m so sad.”

In the summertime it gave her cool shade. In autumn, she admired its foliage. “What happened? Where’s my tree?” Andujar asked after forestry workers had cleared it away. “I love it, because it was big, beautiful.”

But now it’s but a sawed-off stump.

While Andujar understands it had to be cut down for safety’s sake, she’ll miss the towering tree dearly, and hopes another’s planted soon, even if it’s not the same as the one she lost.

“I pray for that,” she said.