Sunday, October 3, 2010

Twister's Toll on Eternal Rest Sites by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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WHEN QUEENS was battered by severe storms and two twisters 10 days ago, neighbors banded together to help each other until the emergency crews showed up.
But what happens if your neighborhood covers more than 200 acres and is populated by the dearly departed?
Several cemeteries in Queens faced that problem last week as they struggled to recover.
City cleanup workers won't venture onto these properties unless the damage was done by a street tree.
"We had a lot of volunteer support, and we relied heavily on it," said Dan Austin, vice president of All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, where towering trees took down fences along with century-old memorials and headstones.
Students from nearby Christ the King High School helped clear some of the smaller branches so crews could more easily load them into woodchippers.
Austin started his own mutual aid program with Cypress Hills Cemetery, on the Queens-Brooklyn border, which agreed to lend him a woodchipper.
He still doesn't know how the cemetery is going to pay for the damage, which he says will exceed $1 million.
More than 96 trees were lost and about 200 headstones were smashed or toppled, he said.
"We are nonprofit, and we don't have money in perpetual care funds," he said. "We have people buried here who were born when George Washington was President."
Things were in such disarray at Mount Hebron and Cedar Grove cemeteries in Flushing that workers discovered a highway sign from the Van Wyck Expressway and a portable toilet.
"I'm not sure where it came from," Jerry Hass, president of the Cedar Grove Cemetery Association, said about the portable toilet.
"We're just lucky that it happened at 6p.m. and not 2 p.m. Anyone out on the grounds at that time would have been killed."
Hass said he was heartened to receive calls from administrators of other cemeteries offering help.
By that time, however, he had secured the services of a tree-removal company.
Trees at St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village took down sections of its fence, which went flying onto Woodhaven Blvd. in one tangled heap.
"The bad thing is that hundreds of trees are gone," said Richard Fishman, director of the New York State Division of Cemeteries, who surveyed the damage last week.
"The good thing is that whatever hit the area did not touch the ground. If it was a typical tornado, hundreds of gravesites could have been pulled up."
It's unclear whether cemeteries such as All Faiths, which is nonprofit, will be eligible for disaster aid.
Crews from the Federal Emergency Management Agency visited the cemetery grounds last week as they inspected storm damage in Middle Village and other hard-hit neighborhoods.
Austin said one of the inspectors was taken aback when he saw some of the ravages of the storm - a huge branch hanging precariously over a mausoleum, and another toppled tree that had cracked a red granite family memorial.
"I wanted to show him more; we were just getting started," Austin said. "But he said he had seen enough."