Hurricane Sandy came ashore late in the day on Monday, October 28, 2012. It is a date New York and New Jersey residents won’t soon forget. The storm wiped out houses and pushed sand and water four blocks inland in some places. While many had evacuated, many others were left stranded. About 10,000 Air National Guard and Army forces came on duty round the clock in the 13 states that were affected by the massive hurricane. The nation tends to rally during the aftermath of a natural disaster. Something about the unequivocal power of nature and its indiscriminate path of destruction makes it easy to ask, “What if it happened to me?” Millions found their answer in the post-Sandy relief effort.
Getting any place back to normal after a crippling disaster takes time, effort and millions of dollars. Though the response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake shocked the world with its magnitude, the restoration is still happening nearly three years later. The Sandy cleanup effort has been called “military” by New York Times writer Eric Lipton, but one wonders just how long crews will be in restoring The Rockaways.
The initial period of disaster cleanup involves assessing damage, safety situations and what is required to complete the job. It is understandable that residents, displaced without homes, want to see action as soon as possible. However, recovery crews, law enforcement and utility companies need to work together in moving forward. After Hurricane Sandy, weakened trees continued to fall, downed power lines could not all be taped off and dangerous roads needed to be detoured.
Moving the wreckage
Hurricane Sandy brought an unparalleled collection of wreckage and waste to the area. From gutted homes, broken roofs and downed trees to overturned boardwalks, building debris and drifted boats, it seemed there was no end to what needed to be cleared. Relief efforts utilized heavy construction equipment such as excavators, picking up and moving the wreckage as Sandy victims looked on at the endless cleanup. Beaches, shore towns and cities found their streets littered with trees, branches, and roots alongside the debris of flooded homes. Cleaning up streets with large machinery required rerouting the most densely populated areas in the country and adding to the traffic. New Jersey and New York were already out of room.
Disposing of waste
As the New York Times reported, Staten Island reopened the Fresh Kills landfill to help with Hurricane Sandy cleanup and the cubic yards of waste that needed to be moved. Debris continues to be transferred state to state months after the storm. Cleanup across New York and New Jersey continues, adding more wreckage to the waste piles.
Not only is the physical process of cleaning up this much debris a remarkable amount of work, requiring tremendous time and money, but the contracting process is an equal nightmare. Local and state governments face major decisions in contracting cleanup crews after a natural disaster. While storm-heavy states further south have the experience of facing such situations, New York and New Jersey have had to improvise, utilizing many different companies and subcontractors. The lesson to be learned is that every state needs to know how to handle large-scale environmental disasters, something FEMA and the national government are learning more about with each storm.
Assessing damage, cleaning up wreckage and disposing waste takes months after major storms, whereas reconstruction can take years. Hurricane Sandy victims have faced insurance denials left and right all across New York and New Jersey and most families will have to wait for government efforts to step in. For those with the savings to start rebuilding, mandates for new flood regulations are stalling the process.
Things will not go back to how they were before. Shore towns will need to better safeguarding against future storms. Foundations will be raised, beaches will be better protected and businesses and homes that thought they weren’t close to flood zones will now carry insurance. But people are supporting one another, locally, nationally and across the world. Organizations like Global Giving are helping people donate to Hurricane Sandy victims in need.
Cleanup after a major environmental disaster can seem never-ending to affected residents of hard-hit areas. Years can pass and life still might not seem normal. But there can be a new normal, one focused on staying aware of previous events. Hurricane Katrina survivors know about the ‘new normal’ and offer comforting support to those who are going through the effects of Hurricane Sandy. The support from the rest of the country is instrumental in moving forward with the cleanup process and residents returning to their daily lives.