By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Claire Johnson was worried about her nephew in Rehoboth Beach, Del., while watching the weather report for Tropical Storm Isaias as it churned up the coast Tuesday.
But the real danger was lurking just outside her distinctive pink home in Sea Isle City.
Johnson told her grandson, Will, who was in the house with her, that she thought she had heard something fall on her roof as the heavy winds from Isaias began to unleash their fury.
“He looked outside and said, ‘Grammy, there is a tree on the roof,’” Johnson recalled in an interview Friday.
Before the storm ended Tuesday evening, four big trees had been blown over in her yard and were leaning precariously against her house at the corner of 67th Street and Landis Avenue.
The poplar trees had been on her property for 40 years and provided a beautiful green canopy that helped make Johnson’s older, ranch-style home a quaint landmark amid all of the larger, modern houses that dominate the neighborhood these days.
“Everyone calls it the ‘Pink House,’” Johnson said of the eye-catching color scheme.
During the storm, Johnson’s home became the center of neighborhood attention once again – this time because her once-majestic trees were uprooted and had enveloped the house.
Johnson, 91, and her late husband, Bill, built the house in 1958 along with Bill’s sister, Kathleen, and her husband, Bud Zellman. Johnson shares ownership of the home now with her nephew, Michael Zellman, and his wife, Dee.
“I love the shore,” said Johnson, who lives in Drexel Hill, Pa., and uses her Sea Isle home as a summer vacation retreat.
The arrival of Tropical Storm Isaias, though, was hardly one of those enjoyable days at the Jersey Shore. Wind gusts in excess of 60 mph blew over trees, awnings, trash cans and utility poles across Sea Isle.
Megan DelFra, of West Chester, Pa., and her family are renting half of Johnson’s home for a summer vacation and were inside the house during the storm. They saw one of the big trees go down.
“It was like it was in slow motion,” Megan said of the falling tree. “It looked like the ground was breathing. It was very slow. It wasn’t scary.”
Fearing everyone was in imminent danger, the police politely hustled everyone out of the house. Johnson said she wanted to brush her teeth before leaving, but one officer insisted that she leave immediately.
“I called the police and they were here within minutes. They were great. They came inside and said everyone had to get out right away,” Johnson said.
Johnson took refuge with her daughter, Nancy Casey, who lives on 67th Street. Megan DelFra, her husband, Mike, their children, Louis, 14, Kiley, 12, and Amy, 9, and their dog, Philly, went to a friend’s house on 44th Street.
Despite having four trees crash against the house, there is only relatively minor damage to the roof. Johnson and the DelFra family are back inside, enjoying their time at the shore again.
“I feel like God saved our house. There is a reason,” Johnson said.
After the storm, Johnson received a call from her 86-year-old sister, Anne Marie, who is a Roman Catholic nun. One of the trees in the yard is affectionately known as “Mother’s tree,” in memory of their late mom, Anne Berenato.
In a touching turn of fate, Johnson assured her sister that “Mother’s tree” had survived the storm.
The four trees that blew over, though, are now completely gone. A landscaper came the day after the storm and cut them down. Only their stumps remain now.
“I still think it’s like a dream. But I will miss these trees,” Johnson said.
Five trees are still standing in her yard, but the property no longer has the same lush blanket of shade as it did when all of the poplars were alive.
“And you thought you would have shade for the summer,” Johnson jokingly said to Megan DelFra as they both broke out in laughter.
(Video of trees blown against Claire Johnson’s home).