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Safety experts remind Houstonians to practice chainsaw safety in Beryl’s aftermath

A fallen tree in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood
Patricia Ortiz
A fallen tree in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood

People in the Houston area eager to dig out of the damage wrought by Hurricane Beryl already have a list of challenges facing them: near-record heat, humidity, lack of power or internet and obstacles on or near roadways that were in the storm's path.

Safety experts are asking people with uprooted or damaged trees to avoid adding to that list by knowing the ins and outs of a subject especially important in the aftermath of a storm: chainsaw safety.

"We know how dangerous they can be. And it is something that should be not taken lightly: using a chainsaw," Jordan Herrin, the regional forester for Texas A&M Forest Service, told the Texas Newsroom. "Know your limits, know your skill level, and do what’s safe. There’s so much that can be unsafe after a major disaster like a hurricane."

As crews of professionals are working steadily to clear roadways and repair power lines, some do-it-yourself Texans are taking to their own yards to clean up whatever debris they can. Herrin said sometimes there can be more than meets the eye when taking on that task.

"Trees, vegetation [and] you mix in power lines – they all get put into really, weird binds," he said. "And so, it doesn’t normally act like just cutting down a tree or maybe cutting up some branches. There are new forces at play."

Tens of thousands of people are injured using chainsaws every year, and the risk tends to increase after natural disasters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total includes 36,000 people per year who require a chainsaw-related visit to the emergency room.

Herrin urges Texans intent on cleaning up what they can to heed advice from the forest service, whose websites includes a rundown of safety tips for new and experienced users. Tips include everything from wearing protective gear to having a pre-planned escape route clear in case of an emergency. People should also keep in mind that not all yards and trees are the same.

"Just because your neighbors were able to easily remove a tree doesn’t mean you are," he said. "Just thinking before you act is probably the single best step that you can take right now."

If a homeowner realizes they can't do the task themselves, Herrin said contacting an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture is the logical next step.

Some of the heavier lifting should be aided by a federally approved disaster declaration announced Tuesday. The declaration will include debris removal, either through reimbursement or additional resources. The federal aid also includes emergency protective measures like reimbursement for costs associated with shelter or evacuation.

While the aid extends to 121 Texas counties in Beryl's path, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell said it doesn't cover damage to individual homes.

"What we’re going to have to do is do an assessment to see what the impact is. We can always add on more programs if we think that they’re needed," Criswell said.