Clearing heaps of Har­vey trash could take months

Baltimore Sun - - HARVEY’S AFTERMATH - By Brian Mel­ley and Paul J. We­ber

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.

MATT ROURKE/AP

Postal worker Lonzell Rec­tor makes his rounds amid flood-dam­aged de­bris from homes.

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