By Karen Frantz
Although many residents and elected officials in ravaged regions of the borough have expressed frustration with some aspects of the city response to Hurricane Sandy, they have heaped praise on at least one agency for its quick response to the storm: the city Sanitation Department.
“Those guys are the unsung heroes,” said a staff member for state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) at his water-damaged district office in Howard Beach, saying Sanitation workers have been out in force since the storm.
Sanitation crews were working 24 hours a day in the aftermath of Sandy, with shifts spanning 12 hours and have cut back on regular trash collection in parts of the city to focus on cleaning up the storm-ravaged areas. A week after the storm, crews had already picked up more than 55,000 tons of refuse and debris citywide.
Some people in southern Queens said they saw crews clearing the streets days before they saw a Con Edison truck working to restore power or a city effort to provide food and other emergency supplies.
“No one was here but Sanitation,” Naomi Seitz, a Broad Channel resident, said about the city response in the first few days after the storm.
The clean-up effort does not only entail clearing debris left in Sandy’s wake, such as downed tree branches and scattered trash, but it also requires removing destroyed furniture and other possessions that have been discarded on the curb outside people’s homes.
In places like Broad Channel, where numerous houses were flooded by water that reached many feet high, piles of debris and refuse sometimes were as tall or taller than a person after the storm.
Rudy S. Giuliani, a spokesman for City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), said a week after the hurricane Sanitation crews in Broad Channel were nearly done with a first round of removing debris and had cleared the streets almost to the toll on Cross Bay Boulevard.
“Cross Bay [had] a disaster with debris,” he said, pointing out that the boulevard had been backed up with traffic because there had “literally been an army of sanitation trucks” cleaning the streets.
The cleanup undertaking was more unusual in some neighborhoods. In Belle Harbor, the department had to remove sand that had blanketed the neighborhood.
“Sand [was] down there like a blizzard,” said Giuliani. “They had to plow it like snow.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg lauded sanitation workers on their efforts Nov. 6 at the Edgemere Queens East 14 Garage in the Rockaways.
“I’ve been visiting the parts of our city hit hardest by the storm,” he said. “And one thing I hear in all those places is the need for debris removal and the incredible work the Department of Sanitation is doing.”
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.