Jose Jordan’s mother sought refuge from Hurricane Maria by fleeing to her son’s home in Westville — only to have an ash tree topple over power lines in Wednesday night’s storm and plunge the home into cold and darkness.
The Jordan family was among thousands around New Haven who lost power overnight in Storm Elsa and spent Thursday dealing with the wreckage and waiting for electricity to come back on.
Jose Jordan first moved from Puerto Rico to New Haven 41 years ago on Thursday. His mother has been living with him and his wife on Marvelwood Drive in Westville for the past five months. She moved to New Haven after Hurricane Maria destroyed her home and nearly all of her belongings in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
On Wednesday night, Storm Elsa offered a frightening reminder of the destruction she had fled in Puerto Rico. The storm toppled a giant, dead ash tree in the front yard of the family’s New Haven home.
Elsa did not remotely wreak the kind of damage of Maria, which decimated Puerto Rico and continues to leave the island struggling five months later; the town of Arecibo, for instance, remains without power. The toppling of the Marvelwood tree during Elsa was more an echo, a reminder in miniature of the continued disruption to lives in an era of ever-more frequent major storms.
City officials said that over 3,000 New Haven households lost power overnight during Elsa. The most widespread outages occurred in Wooster Square and in the Fountain Street area of Upper Westville where the Jordans live.
New Haven firefighters Lt. Gerard Bellamy and Captain Christopher Brigham spent most of Thursday morning and afternoon on Marvelwood Drive in Westville, doing triage and coordinating clean up for the mess caused by the tree that fell from the Jordan’s front lawn.
“It sounded like thunder,” Jordan said about the sound that the tree made when it toppled from his lawn across the entire width of Marvelwood Drive at around 9 p.m. on Wednesday.
He said that he had heard actual thunder and had seen lightning just a few minutes before the tree fell. The second boom was just a lot closer.
The giant ash tree, white and green with flecks of snow and moss, its gnarled branches rising from the pavement like a barbed-wire barricade, had pulled down with it power lines, cable lines and old telephone wires.
The tree had an orange ribbon around its trunk. Jordan said that he and his wife had arranged for that tree, along with two other tall, dead, precarious-looking ash trees on his front lawn, to be taken down later this month.
“I’ve made a lot of enemies today,” he said with a sheepish grin, looking out over the residential block that was still without power thanks to the toppling of the tree he had failed to have knocked down sooner.
Jordan said that he had spoken with representatives from United Illuminating (UI) in November 2017, and that they had said his block was not due for tree trimming until 2022. He said that he and his wife contacted the city for help, received none, then hired a private tree removal service to cut down the three trees at the end of March. He said that the total cost for cutting down the three trees was $10,000.
Surveying The Damage
Bellamy and Brigham arrived at the scene at around 11 a.m. on Thursday. Bellamy, smiling and alert, had ended his previous shift at 7 a.m. on Thursday and began the new day’s shift at 8. Now it was time to help the fire department get a handle on the damage Elsa’s fury wrought on trees and power lines all over town.
“I had time to get something to eat,” he said without a trace of tiredness. Bellamy, a 47-year-old Hill native and father of four, is a four-and-a-half-year veteran of the Marine Corps and a ten-year veteran of the New Haven Fire Department (NHFD). He said he lives for his work. When he retires, he plans then to move to his family’s 200-acre farm in North Carolina and build himself a home.
But for now, there was plenty of work to do here. After leaving the Fire Academy Training Station at 230 Ella Grasso Blvd. at around 10 a.m., Bellamy and Brigham traveled alongside a UI truck and a tree trimming truck directly to Westville.
Brigham, a 33-year-old native Californian who has been on the NHFD for eight years, had a list of 25 sites that a fire lieutenant at the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) had given him and Bellamy to investigate. He and Bellamy prioritized sites with downed power lines.
After finding that the fallen tree had already been cleared and the power restored at their first stop, on Fountain Street, Brigham and Bellamy rounded the corner to find that the second stop on the list was very much in need of attention.
“I think I found where we’re going,” Bellamy said as he looked up Marvelwood Drive at the giant, uprooted ash tree lying across the block.
The two firemen closed off the street, cleared the area of any neighbors who were shoveling their driveways near the fallen tree, and coordinated what to do next with EOC, UI and the parks department tree trimmers.
“People don’t realize just how dangerous it is to be near even a cable line that is touching a power line that may still be live,” Bellamy said.
After UI confirmed that the power lines were no longer live, the firefighters arranged for UI and the tree trimmers to start cutting branches and downed lines. They said that the city would need to send a larger team later in the day to move the bulk of the debris from the street.
“We Are Frozen”
As they waited for UI to do various power tests on lines at the end of the block, the firefighters spoke with the Jordans and their neighbor, Esther Comba, about what they had seen and heard last night when the tree fell.
Comba, a Spanish tutor at John C. Daniels School, said that she and her children had just finished shoveling in their driveway and playing in the snow. Almost immediately upon reentering their house, which is adjacent to the Jordan’s, she heard a giant kaboom.
“We are frozen,” she said, pointing to her still-powerless home. She said that, up until the firefighters and UI arrived, she was afraid to even leave the home and move her cars in case the power lines were still live.
She pointed up and down at the block at various teetering ash trees, all of which she said were dead, killed by a beetle infestation. She said that she was very frustrated that the city and UI had not tended to these trees earlier.
Jordan and his wife have lived in their home on Marvelwood for three years. In that brief span, he has seen at least ten different trees up and down the block topple onto people’s backyards, lawns, driveways, and even into windows, he said. Just last year, a tree in his backyard fell right onto a brand new grill that he had only owned for two weeks.
Looking at the two remaining dead trees on his front lawn and thinking back to the $10,000 tree removal fee that he would have had to pay for all three, he hit on a silver lining: “Well, at least I’ll only have to pay for two instead of three.”
By 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, the tree had been cleared from the street. Firefighters and UI staffers helped Jordan lift the downed cables so that he could get his car out of the garage. Power had not yet been restored and that he would likely not have electricity in his home until Friday.
A Tree Falls In East Rock
Earlier in the day, Deputy Tree Warden Fernando Lage was up in East Rock, visiting the site of another fallen tree. In this case, the tree didn’t fall from a resident’s lawn onto the street. It had fallen from the lawn onto a house.
Lage and several parks department employees were outside 84 Everit St. early on Thursday, figuring out how best to clear a fallen tree that had toppled onto the front porch of John Geanakoplos, an economics professor at Yale.
Lage told Geanakoplos that his team would start trimming the branches from the tree now, so that the homeowner could get his cars out of the driveway. He said that his team would come back with some larger tools on Friday to finish chopping and removing the giant, fallen tree.
Geanakoplos said that he had been been calling the city for years, trying to get someone to come to trim and take down the tree.
“Well,” he said. “It finally came down.”