Crews start removal of storm-felled trees

THE BALTIMORE SUN

After a storm, it's Rick Shortridge's job to loosen the grip of toppled trees that have landed like enormous tentacles across the rooftops of unlucky residents.

He drove through the streets of his Pasadena neighborhood at 4:30 a.m. yesterday and decided there would be plenty of business for his company, Bay Area Tree Care, within a mile of his home.

"We'll have our work cut out for us for a long time to come," he said, looking over his pages-long list of potential customers.

Thousands of trees were uprooted and splintered during Isabel's gusty visit to Maryland. Top-heavy trees filled with fruit and acorns acted like sails during the 50-mph squalls, and the rain-soaked soil often gave way under their weight.

Arborists anticipate the cleanup of debris could take months.

Yesterday, removal crews focused on trees that had become roadblocks or had punctured buildings, such as Marlene Sommerfield's recently remodeled home on Eastern Road near the Magothy River, where a 90-foot red oak made an unwelcome entrance.

A crew of eight from Bay Area Tree Care - led by Shortridge's son, Rich - arrived at 8:30 a.m. and began to study the puzzle of how to remove the oak's branches without causing more damage. The tree was poised like the blade of a paper cutter, ready to sever the brick chimney from the rest of the house.

Their first task was to brace the tree, which they did by rigging rope around the trunk. They threaded the rope through nearby trees and anchored it to company vehicles.

As the crew worked, the elder Shortridge sorted through the more than 50 calls his company had received overnight.

Trees strewn across lawns and old trees that looked as if they might fall - but were still standing - would have to wait, possibly for weeks, as workers concentrate on the those that damaged homes and businesses. In Anne Arundel County alone, there were at least 60 such instances.

In Baltimore, high winds knocked over more than 500 trees, including 350 that landed across city streets such as Wilmslow Road and Oakdale Avenue in North Baltimore.

On Hawthorn Road in Roland Park, children explored a tumbled silver maple, studying its exposed web of red clay-spackled roots and playing on its plank-like trunk.

"Look, Mom, look at that tree," said a 5-year-old girl, whose name - of course - was Isabel Guitians. "It digged up the sidewalk."

Back in Anne Arundel County, Shortridge checked in on potential customer Laura Thompson on Sandbar Lane, where aluminum siding dangled from her tree-smacked home. With the property so flooded that ducks were swimming in Thompson's back yard and bark was floating on her driveway, Shortridge told her it would be especially difficult to remove the tree.

One Chestnut Oak resident whom Shortridge later visited had still another problem - a tree that split his above-ground swimming pool and had drained it of thousands of gallons of water.

By noon, the crew on Eastern Road had snipped away most of the leaves and branches of the oak splayed across the roof.

Sommerfield, who snapped photos for her insurance company as the men worked, said she had believed the thunk she heard as she prepared dinner Thursday night was just a heavy branch hitting the roof.

"When I went outside to see what it was, I almost passed out," she said.

Between the buzz of the chain saws and the hum of the wood chipper, the neighborhood sounded like a construction project. Tree removal is expensive. Sommerfield's job could cost up to $7,000, Rick Shortridge estimated.

Two men sawed away the 90-foot trunk in two-foot sections, dropping the logs from the roof onto the front yard.

At last, the workers made it to the limb jutting into Sommerfield's upstairs bedroom. It was a critical moment: Once this piece was cut free, the rest of the tree - if not properly secured - could crush part of the house.

One worker stood precariously near the edge of the roof, holding a chain saw with one hand and the hand of a fellow employee with the other.

When the limb had been separated, workers swung the tethered trunk off the house and lowered it to the ground.

Sommerfield breathed a huge sigh of relief, and the crew prepared to tackle a nearby house that was securely in the grips of a 70-foot black oak.

Sun staff writers Tom Pelton and Tanika White contributed to this article.

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