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What a mess: Cleaning up after Hurricane Irene

Consumer Reports News: August 28, 2011 07:45 PM

There were eight million stories in the naked city this weekend as Hurricane Irene bore down on New York. One of them was from a man who had just finished the “man cave” in his basement only to see it inundated. Another woman watched as her freezer floated away. Still others had to be rescued from their homes or cars. While not as catastrophic as it could have been, Irene was a destructive storm. Now the cleanup begins.

Irene is moving on, but she's leaving a lot of debris behind. In addition to ruined personal property, hurricanes scatter construction materials, damage buildings, deposit sediment and level trees and shrubs. Getting rid of all this debris can place a burden on homeowners as well as the communities they live in.

Debris piles are dangerous, cautions the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Here are the agency’s safety guidelines for removing harmful debris from homes, yards and roadways.

  • Do not place debris on or near fire hydrants, utility boxes or gas meters. Dangerous gases could escape if utility boxes or gas meters are damaged during debris removal.
  • Keep children away from debris piles. They can be full of broken items, glass, nails, and other sharp objects. Children could easily be injured playing in, around, or on these mounds of debris. The piles may also contain rodents, snakes or bugs.
  • Do not allow children near equipment and debris removal operations. Inquisitive children could be standing or playing in the equipment operator's "blind spot" and may not be seen when equipment and trucks move.
  • Keep all open flames and lit cigarettes clear of debris piles. The piles often contain flammable materials.
  • Don't park cars near debris piles. This will make it easier for equipment operators to pick up the material and reduces the possibility of damage to your car.
  • Drive carefully if you're behind a debris removal truck. Leave a safe distance between your car and the truck. Materials may fall from the truck creating a driving hazard.
  • Observe all traffic rules and directions from flaggers when driving near debris collection sites.

Before putting your debris on the curb, find out what your local trash hauler will take and what it won’t. You may be able to recycle some of the stuff that the storm left behind, says the Environmental Protection Agency. For example:

  • Green waste, such as trees and shrubs, can be “recycled” into organic material, such as compost or mulch.
  • Concrete and asphalt can be crushed and sold for use as sub-base in road building.
  • Metal can be recycled and sold to scrap metal dealers.
  • Brick can be sold for reuse or ground for use in landscaping applications.
  • Dirt can be used as landfill cover or mixed into topsoil.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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