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Union Square Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Parkies In The Spotlight: Danny Hernandez

In yesterday’s Daily Plant, Commissioner Benepe thanked the many Parks employees for all of their hardworking endeavors over the course of this past summer. Among the challenges that Parkies faced was the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

The following story, written by Mary Johnson, was published on on Monday, September 12, regarding the particular efforts of Park Supervisor Danny Hernandez at Union Square Park.

Union Square Park Supervisor Rode Out Hurricane Irene — in the Park

As Hurricane Irene's fury left New Yorkers hunkered down inside their apartments, one man was out strolling through Union Square Park.

Danny Hernandez, however, wasn't out for a weekend walk. The park supervisor braved the storm to search for damage and chaos that the wild weather was causing.

Hernandez kept to the sidewalk furthest from the park as he circled its edges two weeks ago.

The wind and rain were whipping so hard that a flag flying was making a sharp cracking sound. Hernandez, 35, said the piercing noise made it seem as though trees were snapping all around him.

“It almost felt surreal,” he said. “It was a little scary at the same time.”

Hernandez was one of three New York City Parks Department employees drafted to ride out the storm on site in a bunker of offices beneath the Union Square Pavilion. Their job, Hernandez said, was to monitor the park and report damage as it happened to facilitate a quick response once the storm passed.

The team took turns making loops around the park, Hernandez said, checking for downed trees or power lines and keeping people out of harm’s way.

“People still wanted to hang out in the park, believe it or not,” said Hernandez, who had to shoo several people out of the park as the storm beat down on the city.

“Thrill seekers, I guess,” he shrugged.

Hernandez and his fellow workers would then document whatever damage had occurred so that officials would know immediately what was wrong, and where.

The businesses around Union Square wanted to reopen as quickly as possible, Hernandez said, and the Union Square Greenmarket was anxious to get its farmers selling again.

“I realized that a lot of people rely on this place,” said Hernandez, who became a supervisor for the park six months ago. “We took that seriously.”

Hernandez wasn’t supposed to work on the Saturday. His regularly scheduled shift didn’t begin until 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. But when the Parks Department asked if he’d be willing to work from Saturday morning through the night and into Sunday, he agreed.

Hernandez isn’t married, and he doesn’t have any children. But he was concerned about his mother, who lives with him in Ozone Park, Queens. So he tasked his two younger brothers to stay with her through the storm.

“I’m the oldest, so I still felt like I should be there,” Hernandez said.

Irene was Hernandez’s first hurricane shift, but not his first big weather event during his 12 years with the Parks Department.

In December, when a blizzard dumped nearly two feet of snow on New York City, Hernandez spent the night at his office in Astoria, doing his best to help with snow removal.

“It was snowing so hard,” he said. “Whatever you did, an hour later it was like you didn’t do anything.”

And last September, when tornadoes hit Brooklyn and Queens and downed 4,000 trees in 15 minutes, Hernandez was part of a team that worked around the clock to help with cleanup efforts.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Hernandez said.

Although Irene didn’t hit the city with the same swift intensity, the storm was still bad. The Parks Department said it received more than 10,000 public calls through 311 to report tree damage after Irene — a figure comparable to the number of reports received when the tornadoes hit last year.

Throughout the storm, the Parks Department kept teams of staffers in parks facilities across the city. That helped the process of clearing streets and parks take days, instead of weeks, according to a press release.

After the storm passed, hundreds of workers from multiple city agencies and private contractors worked to clear downed trees and debris from streets and parks. So far, the Parks Department said it has completed more than 6,000 tree jobs, which is 20 times the department’s normal workload.

In Union Square Park, several trees fell during the storm, as did piles of branches. But by Monday morning, the Union Square Greenmarket was open for business, and visitors filled the benches lining the park’s pathways. Children were playing in Evelyn’s Playground, and crews were raking up only small tree limbs and leaves.

“For all of that, it was worth it,” Hernandez said. “It’s just a matter of doing what you can for the community.”


“It's all right letting yourself go as long as you can let yourself back.”

Mick Jagger
(1943 - )

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