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Tree damage brings more deadly risks
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane Ivan has passed, but the deadly aftermath has just begun.
Glenn Hughes, a professor of forestry with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the amount of damage appears to be less than what the state was expecting. However, for those with trees in their homes or on their cars, it feels catastrophic.
"States east of us received significantly more damage. Obviously, we still had a lot of tree hurt by the storm," Hughes said. "I've heard reports that the Meridian area had many trees down. Older, historic-type neighborhoods may have been hit the hardest. Those areas typically have trees that are past their prime and possibly not as healthy."
Hughes, who is based in Hattiesburg, said damage from Hurricane Ivan illustrates the importance of removing at-risk trees before a storm hits.
"We don't always get as much warning as we did in the days preceding Ivan. Diseased, dying or dead trees are more likely to fall in high winds and are even more unpredictable (than healthy trees) when they are sawed," he said. "The results are usually better if trees are removed on your schedule, not a storm's."
Hughes also recommends that people replace damaged trees with longer-lived species.
"Species such as water oaks are past their prime in about 80 years, but they still might not show signs of disease," he said. "Live oaks are ideal for hurricane-prone areas, but they do not grow as fast as water oaks."
Many Mississippians purchased their first chain saws as a result of Ivan's winds in south Mississippi and up along the state's eastern edge, and inexperience is one of the leading causes of tree-removal accidents.
Herb Willcutt, Extension safety specialist, said rushing to clean up can be a deadly mistake. New chain saw operators should take the time to review the instructions in the owner's manual and not assume they intuitively know how to run a saw. One-on-one instructions from experienced operators also can be helpful.
"Many chain saw accidents occur when the operators fail to respect the deadly potential of their saw," Willcutt said. "Remember, the chain saw is designed to cut wood. The chain won't have any problem cutting flesh and bone, and it won't be like nicking yourself with a knife or razor blade."
Even experienced operators have accidents as a result of the unpredictability of fallen trees and the potential of letting their guard down. Everyone should analyze the job realistically and decide if a more experienced operator should be called or if exhaustion could be increasing the danger. No one should work alone.
"Sharp chains make the job easier and safer from a fatigue standpoint," Willcutt said. "A sharp chain can mean the difference in a few seconds to cut a limb and much longer."
Willcutt said people should make sure their saws are in proper working order, and see that all the safety features are in place. Follow recommended techniques for starting and holding the saw. Work from the outside edge of a project and clean debris from the ground to provide a clear escape route if needed. Stand firmly on the ground and do not hold the saw overhead. Keep spectators and assistants far from the saw and falling or rolling limbs.
"Watch for power lines near trees. Contact the power company or other tree-removal experts for the riskier jobs," Willcutt said. "If there is a building nearby at risk from the tree, use plenty of ropes to prevent it from damaging structures with an unpredictable fall. That situation also would be a good time to call professionals."
Willcutt said protective clothing can help reduce injuries from the saw or from sharp limbs. As a minimum, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, eye protection, ear plugs, gloves and boots with a good nonslip sole and steel toes. A hard hat and leg protection such as chaps or cut-resistant pants add an extra margin of safety to an operator.