Picking up the Pieces on Indian Hill

A portrait of one Orange neighborhood as it reinvigorates nearly a week after the storm.


Limbs and other debris are still scattered in places on Hillcrest Road on this cold, sunny Sunday afternoon. But it's not nearly as bad as it was Wednesday -- when the street, like many others in Orange, was impassable in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

As resident David D'Astous works to gather branches and other debris, his 8-year-old son Christian helps out. Christian knows nearly everyone in the neighborhood, and in the six days since the 90-mile-per-hour winds hit this area, he's gathered a good sense of what each house went through.

"The night of the storm, the power went out at our house at 7 p.m.," he says. "We went over to the Salatis' [next door], and while we were over there, we were looking out the window and this tree just went …" He makes the sound of a falling tree. It's a common story in the neighborhood.

Many corners of town were hard-hit, from this neighborhood north of Route 34 to Old Tavern Road, where the storm tore down and splintered a utility pole outside Treat Farm and knocked a large oak tree onto power lines just dozens of feet away. It's hard to say what received the most damage.

But the Indian Hill Road area offers a case study into how neighborhoods have recovered from the storm. Dozens of downed trees. Power lines in the road. Almost total power outage until Friday afternoon.

And while the worst is over -- as of Sunday night UI reports 94% of Orange now has power -- there's still the matter of repairing the damage done.

"This Can Be Fixed. It's Just a House."

Like many others here, Fran Onofrio's power came back on Friday afternoon, and she came back home Saturday. She'd left Monday night to go to her daughter's house in New Haven, but not before a tree came slamming into her upstairs window.

"You know, it was very surreal," she says. "My daughter actually saw the tree coming down and said, ah, here comes the tree. My daughter ran up the stairs thinking probably that she should check to see if there was any damage done to the upstairs. And sure enough, there was a big limb that had broken through the window."

She says the most devastating part of the experience has been worrying that her house is open, exposed to the elements. But as she waits for repairs to start, she's not too worried.

"As soon as I get an estimate on what the damage is going to be, and the insurance company agrees on what needs to be done, the work will be started," she says. "We're really pretty comfortable … Watching television, there's so many people that are without their homes at all. This can be fixed. It's just a house."

Downed Trees Everywhere, But Luck Sometimes Prevails

Residents say somewhere in the area of 26 trees fell in the small neighborhood Monday night. By Tuesday morning, at least four houses on two streets had been hit. Downed power lines crisscrossed the roads.

"It seemed like there was a microburst starting at the Maltby Lakes," says resident Dario Salati. "You see all the trees at the Maltby Lakes pushed back. And it follows that same pattern between Route 34 and Indian Hill ... It looked like God came down and just started pushing them down, or like someone was throwing a bowling ball."

John Pendergast's house is the oldest in the neighborhood, and he says he believes it may be the highest point in Orange. Seven trees came down in his yard Monday night, including some very large ones that were completely uprooted. (See above photo.) 

"There's so many trees packed in behind us here, so many small ones," he says. "Once they all came down, you can see it's almost impossible to separate them … But we got really lucky." Like many others in Orange, he's had plenty of close calls -- cases where it could have been much worse. One tree rests against his roof. A foot or so to the right, and it would have gone through his window. Another just missed his sailboat. 

"It's funny, this little stump here, I'd cut half of it down," he says, gesturing to another. "And I believe that stump, maybe 10-12 feet high, deflected the big [tree] just enough that it fell down the middle of the yard." He says in many ways, he and his family consider themselves lucky.

"Knock on wood," he says, knocking on his patio railing. He looks out at the trees in his back yard.

"And there's plenty of wood to knock on."


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