As the damage is assessed and the cleanup continues, some of us count our blessings

It’s been weeks since SuperStorm Sandy clobbered New York and New Jersey, but I still see evidence of its terrible destruction in many neighborhoods. Our business, Classic Landscaping, is located in Edison, N.J., which is about an eight-minute drive to Staten Island, N.Y. Staten Island, of course, was slammed, and is where a large majority of the storm’s fatalities occurred. The New Jersey shore suffered equivalent damage.

You have to see the devastation in person to imagine how much destruction it caused in coastal and inland communities in New Jersey and New York. The scale of the damage is impossible to imagine otherwise.

The Donovan clan of Classic Landscaping has joined thousands of other green industry pros in cleaning up SuperStorm Sandy’s incredible destruction that SuperStorm Sandy left behind. From left, Patrick Donovan and sons Brian, Brendan and Taylor.

My sons and I have seen it up close because we’ve been continually cleaning up properties since the storm. We’ve encountered situations such as trees on houses, abundant piles of debris, street closures, power outages, gas line leakages, and water failures in the worst hit neighborhoods.

So many people lost so much that it’s going to take months to fully comprehend Sandy’s consequences. Yes, the region will return to normal, and true to its tough, can-do attitude, it started the process shortly after the storm passed on. Even so, many people will be starting over. Sandy took away everything they had. In addition to fatalities, that’s the real cost.

Among the fortunate

In just about every sense, we were fortunate. Perhaps it’s more accurate to write lucky. I’m hearing that a lot of other landscape companies, especially those along the shore in south Jersey, had a lot more problems than we did. Problems such as power loss, damage to shops, equipment and fleets truly hits home for the average small business. You have to remember that their employees had damage, too, and had to take care of their own properties before they could help others cleanup downed and damaged trees and, because they have the trucks and expertise to do it, move the incredible amounts of debris caused by Sandy.

And, of course, depending on where you were, there was no gas or diesel. Stations either had no power to pump fuel or just ran out of fuel all together. It was reminiscent of the 1970s during the gas shortage. Some may remember the odd even license plate numbers that determined what days you could fill up. I never thought I would live to see that again.

Apart from losing power for four days, we didn’t suffer any significant damage. A flying piece of sheet metal roofing struck one of our enclosed trailers, but that was the extent of it. Although we did not witness the sheet metal strike the trailer, the damage indicates it went through the trailer like butter. One of my close friends and competitors had the roof collapse on his warehouse. While so many others in this apart of the country, our business remains one of the lucky ones.

First things first

With Sandy gone, we have so much work to do right now and it’s difficult to keep up. The day that I am writing this, we moved equipment and worked on the storm damage at my son’s home, and he’s 40 miles west of the coast. This isn’t the kind of work we expected to do now. Yes, it’s profitable, but Sandy and the snowstorm that hit a week later caused us to miss a lot of work we had scheduled. Six inches of snow fell only a week after Sandy left. A nearby town received maybe twice as much, I’m told. Because we’re so busy cleaning up after Sandy, we’ll probably be doing fall cleanups into January.

Actually, the rain didn’t cause the biggest problems during the storm. It was the storm surge and the flooding that caused the damage. (Editor’s note: Hurricane Sandy covered an area as large as the state of Texas. The strength and angle of approach of the storm combined to produce a record storm surge of water into New York City, with the surge level topping 13.88 feet at Battery Park, surpassing the 10.02 feet record level set by Hurricane Donna in 1960. New York Harbor’s surf also reached a record level, 6.5 feet taller than a 25-foot wave churned up by Hurricane Irene in 2011.)

Patrick Donovan says that it will be months before the of the downed trees and debris from SuperStorm Sandy is cleared, removed or recycled. The hardship it caused in some areas, he says, is almost unimaginable.

Emotionally involved

I was a Port Authority (New York and New Jersey) employee for 31 years, 27 years as a police officer before retiring. I was at the World Trade Center during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and also for the recovery after the 9/11 attacks. My father, Patrick T. Donovan, was a detective for the Port Authority Police during the construction and the inauguration of the WTC. My parents kept my two brothers and my sister out of school for the inauguration as my sister’s high school band performed at the event. My mom and dad, both New York born, met at Coney Island, which also suffered damage from Sandy.

The original World Trade Center will always have significant sentimental value to my family and me. I walked the structure during the construction in the ’70s and watched it collapse with the rest of the world on 9/11. The family history doesn’t stop here. My oldest son, Patrick M. Donovan, now works at the WTC site as a construction safety specialist – three generations of Patrick Donovans at one of the most significant construction projects of our time.

When the storm caused the Hudson River to surge, it flooded the basement of the WTC, which is now under construction. The building is built on bedrock so there’s no drainage system; all of the floodwater has to be pumped away. As I am writing this, news reports say that million of gallons of water have been pumped from the site.

I started Classic Landscaping in 1983, partly because I have a Type-A personality and a love of a beautiful stripe on a lawn. Obviously, I don’t like being idle and I wanted to be in charge. My interest probably started at a much younger age because my mother used to call me a ‘dirt mechanic.’ I loved playing with toys in the dirt. And as you can tell from the picture, I still do. The real dirt ‘toys’ just cost a lot more.

When people say I can’t do something, I like proving them wrong. I liked being a cop, but it was a job. My passion quickly grew closer to landscaping. It was like therapy for me. I made a decision from the start not to grow it beyond our means. Robin, my wife of 32 years, and I are fortunate that God gave us four sons that have been willing and able to help in the company. Our family is our help and our help is our family; it’s strictly a family-owned and family-operated business. It’s the reason I have a successful business. I am the luckiest man in the world. I get to spend every day working with my sons.

We have two sons in college, Brendan and Brian, and one that just graduated, Taylor, who incidentally helped pen this story. Our oldest son works at the WTC as previously mentioned. When all of our sons move out and can live on their own, I will probably retire … again.

Patrick D. Donovan is the owner of Classic Landscaping in Edison, N.J. He is a Certified Nursery and Landscape Professional, Licensed Pesticide Applicator, Licensed Pesticide business, Licensed Home Improvement Contractor, certified by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, certified by the National Concrete and Masonry Association, OSHA certified HAZWOPER contractor, Retired Police Officer/fatal accident investigator, Federally Certified Motor Carrier Inspector, and member of Planet, SIMA and the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association.