Dealing with the aftermath

Top: A tornado can uproot huge trees.
Middle: A grapple picks up small logs cut from fallen trees.
Bottom: Having the right tools and equipment makes the job safer and easier.
Tree service companies must respond to emergency calls when trees fall across roads from tornado winds.

When an F4 tornado ripped through sections of west Tennessee the night of February 5, 2008, emergency personnel—ambulances, sheriff and police departments and firemen—responded. However, before some of the emergency vehicles could assist in the rescue of those trapped, tree service companies cleared the debris from roads and highways.

When a weather-related event like a tornado occurs, tree service companies must be ready and prepared for any emergency.

“Worker safety is a top priority in any work,” says Sam Bryant, owner of Bryant Tree, Inc. in Jackson, Tenn. Down power lines with live wires hanging low or on the ground require trained personnel.

The region is dotted with pines, tall conifers that reach upward to 50 feet or more. Winds in excess of 200 mph pulled up these shallow-rooted trees. Tree workers cleared many of these pines and other native specimens.

Union University, with an enrollment of over 3,000, was the hardest hit. Approximately 1,200 students were in campus housing, and some were buried under rubble for several hours. Those with heavy equipment, including local tree service companies, lifted the walls and timbers, freeing the students. With this equipment in close proximity and ready to move immediately, there were a few injuries, but no fatalities at the university.

On the Union University campus, foundations for new buildings were under construction. Several parking areas were waiting for pavement. This expanse of soft, fill dirt created even more problems for tree services companies. Before service trucks could enter the area, wreckers had to clear numerous cars that had been thrown by tornado winds.

 “One of the problems with clearing trees and debris was dealing with sightseers and local traffic,” says Bryant. “Extra officers were brought into the area from other cities and towns, but there were still a lot of onlookers.” Even though roads were blocked, people parked in nearby malls and walked in.


The location of the tornado, whether rural or urban, residential or commercial, creates different problems. In an urban area, streets and roads provide access to city blocks. Although, in a highly populated area, traffic congestion slows work. Electrical outages at intersections can also cause problems.

Storm damage in rural areas often means driving over rough terrain and to remove uprooted trees and fallen limbs. Make a checklist of needed materials and supplies to save trips.

In a heavily populated residential or commercial area, Bryant suggests first conducting an inspection of the site. List any hazards, such as power lines, traffic, pedestrian activity or any property that might be damaged during the takedown. Analyze the job before it is started.

A worker wears protective clothing and a hard hat during tornado cleanup.

Disposal of trees and limbs after a tornado is another factor to take into account. Will the timber be turned into chips or mulch and sold? Has a site been chosen for disposal of timber? Will the tree service company be responsible for this disposal, or will the job go to an excavation company?

In residential cleanup, will the city pick up limbs hauled to the curb? Usually, a pickup service is only available if the homeowner does the tree trimming. If hiring a service, the company may be responsible for cleanup. However, following a tornado or other natural disaster, most cities will haul off debris at the curb for residents.

The author writes from Jackson, Tenn.