Looking Back: Superstorm Sandy
By John J. Doherty, Commissioner of Sanitation
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 Queens, in southern Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.
In preparation for the storm, the Department relocated equipment from its facilities in the evacuation areas of Queens and Brooklyn. DSNY building maintenance crews then sand bagged those facilities in the flood prone zones to deter major damage.
As the storm abated, DSNY crews were dispatched to remove downed trees, clear roads of sand and debris for emergency vehicles, and began the process of removing what ultimately became more than 430,000 tons of water logged storm debris from curbsides in front of damaged homes in the areas hit by the surge.
Operating out of a temporary command post in Queens because DSNY headquarters was blacked out by floods in lower Manhattan, the department coordinated a massive debris removal operation with Army Corps of Engineers assistance. Temporary debris storage sites were established while thousands of DSNY workers plied every street in the affected areas collecting damaged furniture, personal belongings, household equipment, and more.
Workers were placed on 12-hour shifts. Some of the workers had sustained significant damage to their own homes, but showed up to work to help their communities. Some even slept at their garages. Recycling collections were suspended citywide for two weeks to allow for the redeployment of those workers to storm debris removal work. Refuse collection was reduced in some areas to allow for additional personnel redeployment. Alternate side parking was suspended citywide to supplement the storm debris collection efforts.
In many areas, DSNY workers were cheered for their persistence 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 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.
In all, the clean-up lasted until mid-April, and DSNY workers removed about 434,740 tons of household storm debris. An additional 27,720 tons of tree debris was collected City-wide and disposed of at Parks facilities.
DSNY was honored and privileged to be part of the enormous clean-up efforts that helped get the City back on its feet.