Wilma toppled Bonita man's 80-foot silk oak

Leonard Smith always figured it would take an act of Mother Nature to uproot the 80-foot tree in his backyard.

He just didn't think it would be a hurricane named Wilma.

"It stood Charley," said Smith, 34, referring to the Category 4 hurricane that damaged most of his Bonita Springs home last year.

Leonard Smith, 34, looks over a fallen tree in the backyard of his home in Bonita Springs. The tree, which was estimated at more than 80 feet high, is causing problems for Smith, who is having a hard time figuring out how to remove the tree from his yard.

Photo by Cary Edmondson, Bonita Daily News

Leonard Smith, 34, looks over a fallen tree in the backyard of his home in Bonita Springs. The tree, which was estimated at more than 80 feet high, is causing problems for Smith, who is having a hard time figuring out how to remove the tree from his yard.

"I figured it would stand this."

The massive silk oak that survived last year's hurricane season was ripped from the ground last week as Hurricane Wilma's Category 3 winds busted through Bonita Springs. Smith emerged from his home on Pullen Avenue to find the tree had crushed his fence before coming to rest in the yards of two of his neighbors.

Trees took the brunt of Wilma's beating as the storm blew through Bonita Springs, one of the hardest hit areas in Lee County. Mounds of fallen limbs and foliage line county streets as residents wait for waste crews to begin picking up storm debris.

More than a week after the storm, Smith is still not sure what to do about the mammoth tree that now occupies most of his backyard, where his sons, Chris, 5, and Alex, 11, play. He has used a chain saw to carve out parts of the tree that claimed residency on three different properties after it fell.

"I've been hacking at it for about five days," said Smith. "I'm quite sore."

Tree service companies have estimated the costs of removing the tree at $3,000 to $4,000, money Smith doesn't have after rebuilding his home in the wake of Hurricane Charley. Smith took out $40,000 in loans to rebuild after last year's hurricane season, and his roof was replaced this summer. Smith, a department manager at Wal-Mart, was also given assistance through a special Wal-Mart employee fund to carry out repairs.

"I'm tapped out," Smith said.

"What damage I have is going to have to stay. I've maxed out every credit card except for the Home Depot card."

Smith approached the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see if they could help him remove the tree. FEMA has set up a disaster recovery center at the Bonita Springs Community Hall to assist residents who have incurred damage during the hurricane. Smith was offered a small- interest loan but declined.

Chris Smith, 5, walks in front of a fallen tree in the backyard of his home in Bonita Springs. The tree, which is estimated to be more than 80 feet long, fell during Hurricane Wilma and is spread across three properties.

Photo by Cary Edmondson, Bonita Daily News

Chris Smith, 5, walks in front of a fallen tree in the backyard of his home in Bonita Springs. The tree, which is estimated to be more than 80 feet long, fell during Hurricane Wilma and is spread across three properties.

"I can't afford to take out another loan," Smith said. "We just got done rebuilding half the house."

With the amount of trees and debris that fell during the storm, Gerald Campbell, chief emergency planner for Lee County, said it wouldn't surprise him to hear residents have encountered problems with moving large debris, such as trees.

"The county just doesn't have the resources to do that," Campbell said. "For those folks that have the financial ability, we recommend they talk to private contractors or their insurance companies."

Elderly residents, or those who need financial assistance as they remove storm debris from their properties, can contact local charities such as the United Way of Lee County, Campbell said.

Residents who needed help in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley were put in touch with low-cost contractors and agencies that provide financial assistance.

"They coordinated some of those efforts last year," Campbell said. "For people that really need help, there are agencies out there to help them."

Linda Pankow, program manager of United Way's hurricane relief hotline, said the charity hasn't designated a program to deal with the removal of storm debris like the group did after last year's Hurricane Charley.

"That doesn't mean we couldn't in the future," Pankow said. "We don't take it lightly. If they have a tree lying across their roof, we will try to help them."

Pankow encouraged residents affected by the storm to check in with the charity's 211 hotline for updates on storm relief programs that are available.

"Tree removal is a tough one right now," Pankow said. "People are getting individual quotes and finding out they can't pay for it."

Residents who were able to move the debris left in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma will begin to see less of it by next week, said Brigitte Kantor, spokeswoman for the Lee County Solid Waste. Lee County waste crews will begin picking up storm debris in Bonita Springs beginning on Monday.

Residents are being advised to have storm debris placed in front of their homes no later than Sunday. After Nov. 6 the debris will have to be in compliance with a county waste ordinance that requires debris to be bundled in piles no greater than 6 feet long.

There's no restrictions on the amount of storm debris residents can put by their curbs, said Kantor, but waste removal crews will only pick up materials that are storm-related. "During Charley last year, a lot of people did a lot of land clearing and took advantage of the situation," Kantor said.

The department collected 1 million cubic yards of storm debris after Hurricane Charley, an operation that required more than 400 waste removal trucks.

Kantor expects the county will use about one-third of that amount in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

Residents who don't want to wait for storm waste crews to come through their neighborhoods can bring their vegetative storm debris to a drop-off site at the south end of A&W Bulb Road, which runs between McGregor Boulevard and Gladious Drive in Fort Myers.

Kantor said residents wanting to get rid of their yard waste should bring their driver's license to prove Lee County residency.

More information about waste removal in Lee County can be found at: www.lee-county.com/solidwaste/

© 2005 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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