From The Sanitation Commissioner
DSNY’s entire field force played an essential role in assisting the city in recovering from the deadly impact of Superstorm Sandy and the massive storm surge that flooded many communities on Staten Island, in the Rockaways, in southern Brooklyn, and lower Manhattan one year ago.
Initially, the Department relocated equipment from its facilities in the designated evacuation areas of Queens and Brooklyn. DSNY building maintenance crews then sand bagged those facilities in the flood prone zones to deter major damage.
Headquarters for this massive job was moved to a temporary command post in Woodside, Queens because their offices were blacked out by the historic surge and floods in lower Manhattan. The Department coordinated its massive debris removal operation in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers.
DSNY officials met with Office of Emergency Management (OEM) the day before Superstorm Sandy to advise the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that Riis Park would be an ideal temporary location to store the storm debris from the Rockaway peninsula and surrounding locations should the storm hit with its predicted ferocity. Factors that went into the decision making process were Riis Park’s size, paved surface, and readily available access. The central location of the facility and its proximity to the affected areas and highways allowed DSNY to more quickly remove debris from roadways and residences thereby helping to provide more immediate relief to the thousands of victims of the unprecedented storm.
As Sandy abated, the cleanup began the next day and did not end until April, 2013. During that time, thousands of Sanitation workers, many of whom had sustained significant damage to their own homes, were dispatched to remove downed trees and to clear roads of sand and debris to allow emergency vehicles to pass. Sanitation workers showed up to work to help their neighbors and their communities. Many slept in their garages.
They were placed on 12 hour shifts and began the process of removing what ultimately became more than 434,740 tons of water logged storm debris from curbsides in front of damaged homes in the areas hit by the surge. Of the estimated 241,513 tons of debris removed from Queens, about 217,362 tons were removed from the Rockaways alone.
In addition to storm debris, DSNY also collected 27,720 tons of tree debris citywide. From Queens, over 11,394 tons of tree debris was collected and disposed of by DSNY at Department of Parks and Recreation facilities.
Recycling collections were suspended citywide for two weeks to allow for the redeployment of those workers to emergency storm debris removal work. Refuse collection was reduced in some areas to allow for additional personnel redeployment. And alternate side parking was suspended citywide to supplement the storm debris removal efforts.
In many areas, DSNY workers were cheered for their round-the-clock efforts in clearing sand from streets to allow for traffic to pass and for their compassionate, yet necessary debris removal operations. Workers also were inspired by a visit to Staten Island by President Obama who shook the hands of several Sanitation workers and chiefs as he surveyed the Island’s horrific storm damage.
The President thanked the workers calling them first responders who don’t always get the credit they deserve, even though they had done heroic work. Former President Bill Clinton paid a surprise visit to workers in the Rockaways to say ‘thank you’ for their tireless work. Media accolades also followed boosting the morale of the work force that did not have a day off for more than two full weeks.
Super Storm Sandy posed one of the most serious operational challenges to the DSNY since its establishment in 1881. I am proud to report that we were ready for the challenge.
John J. Doherty is the Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation of New York City.