OXFORD — Lillian Danowski tried unsuccessfully to fight back emotions as she stood on her Hogs Back Road porch watching the action below.
“I don’t know when this would have been done,” said the recently widowed woman. “These past few weeks have been a struggle.”
Michael Ukanowicz, on Rollings Hill Drive, had made 25 trips in his Nissan truck to the dump already and had at least another 15 planned
“I’m worn out,” the 65-year-old admitted. “I’m overwhelmed. It’s just been a constant battle, … but this — this is fantastic.”
Larry Morgan, a retired Bridgeport police officer living on Oakwood Drive, was ready to make a donation after finally seeing the back of his shed again.
For five hours on Saturday, 28 members of the Oxford High School football team tackled a foe even bigger than the rival Ansonia Chargers. They took on the tons of branches and debris left by the tornadoes, microbursts and macrobursts that ripped through their town on May 15.
By 1 p.m., 10 truckloads of branches, brush and logs had been taken to the transfer station. Another ten truckloads waited at curbs.
“Do you believe this?” said First Selectman George Temple. “I’m so proud to see them showing so much concern for their community.”
At just about 8 a.m., Justin Bizzotto, a 16-year-old linebacker, and Greg Malyszko arrived at Oxford High School for the June 23 team meeting.
It’s been more than a month since the May 15 storm cut a swath through the town. Yet the grinding noise of chainsaws cutting wood still fills the air. On the ground, hundreds of trees lie in yards, atop others in woods or cut up and stacked in piles.
Longtime residents like Ukanowicz will tell you the damage from this storm was worse than any they’ve seen. Danowski said she was without power for a week.
In the locker room, Head Coach Joe Stochmal discussed his game plan.
“This is an opportunity for us to show our appreciation for this beautiful school and great facilities we have,” he said. “Let’s make sure we attack this like a practice. Stay focused and do a good job.”
He then split his team into four groups of seven, each led by two adults.
Outside Tim Richmond, a retired Bridgeport firefighter, hands out yellow safety helmets, safety glasses and thick gray gloves, all donated by Haynes’ Ace Hardware.
Richmond, who spent 26 years in firefighting — 24 as a pumper engineer in Bridgeport — heads the town’s volunteer cleanup committee. The committee’s initial response was to assess damage at homes whose residents called the town for help. Saturday’s response is to remove the debris.
“We’re not going into the woods and dropping ‘widow-makers’ (broken trees leaning against each other),” he said. “We’re not doing any tree climbing.”
Stihl, which has its Northeast regional distribution center in Oxford, donated two large chainsaws for the cleanup. In addition to providing safety gear, Haynes also lent a large dump truck and driver.
Coaches like Stochmal and Lu Diaz, parents like Jed Ferrante and Wayne Mavricz, and townspeople like Richmond and Larry Ellis handled the power tools. Players like Bizzoto, Malyzko, Ayden and Julian Ferrante, Dylan Mavricz, Andrew Aldo, John Biondi, Charley Flowers, Jason Madden, Adyn Tadduni and the dozens of others pulled, carried and dragged debris to the curb for pickup by Public Works Department workers.
In the case of Danowski’s house, the curb was about 500 feet down the hill along a dirt driveway.
“This is fantastic,” she said. “I’m so far back from the road I don’t know how I would have done this.”
Several huge maple and oak trees fell around the heavily wooded sides and back of Danowski’s property. Richmond suggested she put up a sign offering free firewood.
Ukanowicz also has numerous large trees down on his property.
“My neighbor says he’s got four to five years of wood already,” he said. “Two guys have been hacking away at this big stuff on the side. But who’s going to want all this?”
Richmond, Diaz, Jed Ferrante and Wayne Mauricz spent more than a half hour cutting limbs off two sheds — one still standing and the other smashed at 24 Dutton Road.
“This is pretty extreme,” said Madden, a 16-year-old linebacker, “but practice is tougher.”
Not far away Flowers, a 17-year-old wide receiver and free safety, was carrying an armful of maple. He agreed, “Practice is tougher.”
By 1 p.m., Stochmal said 28 yards were cleaned.
Amy Herold on Rolling Hills Drive was so happy with her cleanup, she whipped up 20 egg, bacon and cheese sandwiches for the volunteers.
“It’s amazing the way this community pulled together,” she said. “This is a great experience for the kids.”
James Tzepos, owner of Zois’ Pizza in Seymour, also donated food, including several large pizzas that Temple brought to the high school. Nothing was left behind.
“These kids can eat,” Temple said of their post cleanup lunch. “I was wondering what I was going to do with the leftovers.”
Richmond said there was more work to be done. But that was for another day.
“I never expected to get this done in a day,” he said. “Mother Nature hit us for 10 minutes and left us with a year’s worth of cleanup.”