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Willard Section Rebuilds One Tree at a Time

With no idea when the power will be back, residents in what looks like a warzone are finding helpful neighbors, tree experts and mailmen.

Al Jones was in his Belmont Road home in Ridgewood's Willard section when he knew his luck had run out.

"I was in the basement and my wife was in the kitchen," he recalls. "We just heard a dull thud. And we knew."

Shouting above the hum of saws ripping massive, fallen Oaks into bits, he surveyed the damage. Where the eye could see, the destruction was evident. Power lines dangled in the wind. Telephone poles had been tossed. Massive debris piles were stacked where fallen trees weren't. Maybe one or two of the 20 homes were unscathed.

"We've been here for 30 years. There have been a lot of wind storms. This is the first time," he said, pointing to a massive town tree wrapping across his home.

It had penetrated a small section of the roof but damage was relatively small. The fire department quickly responded and the lines were de-electrified he said.

There's been no power for days, but it could be worse he says.

"It'll be on when it's on," he shrugs.

The generator outside keeps his food cold. His next door neighbors get to share. It's only fair, Jones reasons, given the noise level.

Asked how he'd rebuild, he expressed minimal concern. "We just had the contractor do work on the house. Looks like he'll be back," he smiled.

Walking around the neighborhood – one of the worst hit in Ridgewood –it's clear that everyone knows everyone.

Residents casually ask each other if they can park in neighbors' driveways. Others inquire about the welfare of their neighbors. "I think he went to New York before the storm hit," one says.

The village did a good job clearing some of the hazards from downed trees blocking roadways, Jones said. But he – and no one else on Belmont – planned on waiting around for the town to come by and remove the uprooted trees.

The village under normal circumstances is behind months on clearing shade trees. It had a backlog of more than 150 before Hurricane Sandy brought wind gusts up to 75 mph and created hazards in hundreds of locations in town.

Jones was fortunate.

Across the street, Ian Mitchell and his crew were hard at work taking a tree off a house with a crane, woodchipper and a cadre of saws.

The head of Almighty Tree Experts based in Hackensack, Mitchell seems to be the unofficial cleanup coordinator around Willard. Upon seeing Mitchell working across the street, he was soon booked for the Jones' and others on the block.

"Whatever it takes," Diana Hock said, propositioning Mitchell's wife, the organizing engine of Almighty Tree Experts, Kim Mitchell.

"The damage in town is just devastating," Ian says, flanked by his wife. "Last October it was bad but it was nothing like this."

Business for the Mitchell family has been good. They can barely keep up.

"Every time we clear the voicemails, it fills right back up again," he says. Residents are on edge but for the most part, they've been understanding.

It takes time to get to them and finish up the work.

"It's human nature," he says. "People want it to be done now."

The situation was still troubling for residents on Belmont and nearby roads. They had no idea when they'd receive power. It could be as late as Friday, Nov. 9 for all they know. But there was still joy.

"Mailman Bill" glides around the curve from Belmont Road onto Avondale Road. Despite the myriad of roadblocks and hazards, he doesn't mind being out on the roads. Quite the opposite.

"I was ready to come to work!" he laughed, surprised anyone would find that the least bit unusual.

Mailman Bill – with a basket full of lollipops for kids who went without a Halloween and dog treats to break the stereotype – exchanges pleasantries with neighbors up and down the block. It's not the normal "Hey, how are you?" "I'm good." The kids pile into minivans, smile and wave from the windows. He waves back.

It's genuine. He feels for the people along his route and he wants to give back as he can.

"I'm here to bring joy!" the Ridgewood resident and 25-year veteran said.

And he'll bring the mail, too.

News Man November 01, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Why is Al Jones smiling.... still in good spirits, I guess.
Robert Otten November 01, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Can't wait to get home! We were fortunate to ride out the storm in a different state, but in some strange way really miss the community and can't wait to get back. I know I have a lot of work to do and the insurance claim for the garage, now devastated, is underway but I could not appreciate our neighbors more than we do now.
Gwenn November 02, 2012 at 04:29 PM
I couldn't believe our USPS working the day after the storm, navigating blocked streets and driving under all those downed trees and wires! But BILL the Mailman IS the GREATEST! Thanks for mentioning him. He does make Ridgewood finer!
jp1 November 02, 2012 at 04:45 PM
I have seen that the post office has been up and running but we have not had a mail delivery in two days.
JB November 02, 2012 at 07:28 PM
We've gotten our mail....no problem! (Willard Area)
Deirdre November 08, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Dee Thanks Bill for coming through again. You bring a little light to a dreary situation. I can speak for my dog Coby too. He is so happy to see you as are all the other dogs on the block and looks forward to the bones which you generously give him.

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