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At cemeteries, storm's effects limit funerals and visitations Crews work to clear grounds of debris

Last week's freak snowstorm with booming thunder and cracking trees loud enough to wake the dead failed to disturb the 152,000 permanent residents of Forest Lawn, but it has left the burial grounds a mess of downed limbs and trees.

Forest Lawn is still open for funerals, but the grounds are open by appointment only as crews work to clear the cemetery's 18 miles of winding roads.

Damage is even worse at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, where funeral processions have been limited to two cars only because of the danger that hanging limbs and unstable trees pose.

Both cemeteries date from the mid-19th century and have long been known for pastoral settings provided by towering oaks, maples and various other trees.

"It's a nightmare, very heartbreaking," Carmen Colao, cemetery director for the Buffalo Catholic Diocese, said of the damage to Holy Cross.

The Forest Lawn arboretum, a collection that dates to before the cemetery's founding in 1849 -- nearly 20 years before Frederick Law Olmsted came to Buffalo -- has also sustained devastating damage.

Joseph P. Dispenza, who has spent nearly 20 years at Forest Lawn and is now its president, hesitated when asked how he felt when he first walked through the grounds Saturday morning to assess the damage from the heavy wet snow.

"I can tell you there was a dual emotional impact," he said. "The first was simply, how sad."

"But by the same token," he added, "if you looked up off the ground -- and I do even now explaining to you have chills -- it's like, 'Yea, nature, nobody can take you down, because there's life still."

Dispenza said the cemetery's canopy has thinned with damage to willows, sycamores, Norways and aspens, but he said the cemetery's 100-year-old-plus oak grove and the century-old cherry trees along Mirror Lake will survive.

"Fortunately, there was such a depth and scope of trees, both species and age, that even when this is finished, the cemetery's arboretum, has and will survive," he said.

None of Forest Lawn's signature monuments, he said, appeared to sustain any damage.

Forest Lawn's gates are closed while work by the cemetery's crews continues, but Dispenza said those wishing to visit loved one's graves or make funeral arrangements can call for an appointment or go to the cemetery's Delaware Avenue main gate.

Dispenza said he began meeting with the cemetery's trustees Saturday and they have come up with a plan that will help reforest Forest Lawn. They plan to bring in consultants and present a plan to the community.

"Once we go through with the professional assessment, we'll have a better handle," he said. "That's when I will be going to families and foundations and the greater Buffalo community, because Buffalo enjoys Forest Lawn, and Forest Lawn enjoys being a signature part of this community."

At Holy Cross, cemetery superintendent Ronald Paszek and his crews have so much damage to clear that they have been forced to limit the size of funeral processions.

The cemetery, which has about 100,000 graves, is the same age as Forest Lawn. It, too, dates to 1849, when it was begun by Bishop John Timon, but burials at Holy Cross actually began 170 years ago.

"It looks like at least one-third of the trees are not going to be salvaged," said Colao, the diocese's cemetery director.

At Forest Lawn, Dispenza said the cemetery has weathered storms before and will weather this one as well.

"In a cemetery, you measure decades in a blink of an eye," he said. "You measure centuries."

mbeebe@buffnews.com

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