Clearing heaps of Harvey trash could take months
HOUSTON — Roiling waters in the streets have been replaced by stifling piles of garbage on the curbs.
Harvey’s record-setting rains created heaps of ruined possessions that now line entire neighborhoods, nearly up to the rooftops of the homes that were swamped. All that sodden drywall, flooring, furniture, clothing and toys add up to an estimated 8 million cubic yards in Houston alone, enough to fill up the Texans stadium two times over.
Texas and city officials have pledged to make a priority of the monumental task of cleaning it up, though they stopped short of giving specific timelines, mindful that such cleanups have dragged on longer than anticipated after other major storms.
“We want to get it removed as quickly as possible,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters Thursday.
For now, the piles big and small have become evidence, of sorts, of the losses from more than 200,000 damaged homes up and down the Texas coast.
Not only are the heaps eyesores, but they are starting to give off a musty funk. And the longer they sit, officials warn, they could become havens for mold, not to mention snakes, rats, skunks and other critters. The junk could also turn into projectiles if another hurricane strikes.
“I just can’t stand it anymore,” said Peggy Lanigan, who took a break from clearing out her Houston home that flooded for the first time in 22 years.
The city is pushing to complete a “first pass” of debris removal within 30 days, said Derek Mebane, deputy assistant director of Houston’s solid waste department. He said collecting subsequent piles could take months and warned that if Hurricane Irma causes extensive damage in Florida, the cleanup in Houston could be slowed if resources are diverted. While local crews do the pickups, the Federal Emergency Management Agency covers 90 percent of the costs.
As it stands now, clearing even just one Houston street can take days. Some piles are so massive that a single stack of debris from one home can fill up an entire truck.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner this week pleaded for help, asking for anyone with heavy equipment suitable for debris removal to reach out.
The trash will go into the city’s existing landfills, and San Antonio trucks have been sent in as part of an agreement between the two cities to help each other in disasters, the mayor said.
Soon after the storm hit, state officials suspended some environmental rules on waste removal that they said could impede the pace of disaster recovery, which has raised concerns among environmentalists.
Trash looters are another concern. Some homeowners spray-painted messages on mattresses to leave them alone because the debris is needed for insurance claims.
Postal worker Lonzell Rector makes his rounds amid flood-damaged debris from homes.