On the surface, things look calm and placid. Just beneath the waterline, however, it’s a different story.
Cars and sunken boats. Patio furniture. Pieces of docks. Entire houses. A grandfather clock, deposited in a marsh a mile from solid land. Tons of sand. All displaced by Superstorm Sandy.
“We did a cleanup three weeks ago. Then when we went back the other day, you could still see junk coming up in the wash,” said Paul Harris, president of the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association, which helps take care of beaches on which the group goes surf fishing. “There’s nothing you can do about it; you can’t vacuum the ocean.”
Coastal areas of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are racing to remove untold tons of debris from waters hardest hit by the Oct. 29 storm before the summer swimming and boating seasons begin, the underpinning of the region’s multibillion-dollar tourist industry.
The sunken debris presents an urgent safety issue. Swimmers could cut themselves on submerged junk, step on one of thousands of boardwalk nails ripped loose, or suffer neck or spinal injuries diving into solid objects. Boats could hit debris, pitching their occupants overboard, or in severe cases sinking.
The clean-up won’t be easy, fast or cheap.
“The amount of debris that needs to be removed is mind-boggling,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, ticking off the statistics in his state: 1,400 vessels sunk, broken loose or destroyed. In just one shore town alone, Mantoloking, 58 buildings were washed into Barnegat Bay, along with eight vehicles, and a staggering amount of sand carried from the ocean beaches into the bay.
“Everything you can imagine is sitting in our waterways,” he said.
New York and Connecticut face similar problems.
“We have everything from floating oil barrels, gasoline tanks, household hazardous waste products, buckets, tires, bathtubs — you name it,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment on Long Island.
Crews in Hempstead, N.Y., have removed 379 tons of debris from waterways since Sandy hit. Neighboring Babylon has retrieved 50 tons, including two tool sheds fully intact.