* 'Two miles' of debris piles fill Queens beach parking lot
* Army Corps of Engineers estimates four-month clean-up
* Around 350 NYC homes may be demolished in wake of floods
By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK, Nov 17 Last summer it was packed with
beachgoers, a parking lot where New Yorkers stashed their cars,
applied sunscreen and dragged lawn chairs, coolers and umbrellas
across the blacktop toward the shore.
Today it's an enormous waste collection site half a mile
long and a quarter-mile wide, piled high with debris from the
flooding caused by storm Sandy.
Twisted steel, waterlogged wood, broken furniture and
countless mattresses fill a parking lot that normally serves one
of New York's most popular ocean beaches.
Hundreds of trucks come and go around the clock bringing
material collected from the streets of the Far Rockaways and
Breezy Point, where water from Sandy's storm surge tore apart
homes and buildings. Residents are still digging out.
The temporary garbage dump at Jacob Riis Park in Queens is
one of several sites around the city being used this way. The
size of the dump reflects the enormity of the damage caused by
the storm. The debris just keeps coming.
"Our mission is to clear the right of way - sidewalk to
sidewalk," said Fred Strickland, the resident engineer from the
Army Corps of Engineers, which is helping the New York
Department of Sanitation with the cleanup.
Strickland said his collectors are making constant rounds of
the hardest-hit neighborhoods, going back for more debris as
homeowners clean out flood-damaged homes.
Strickland expects his assignment, paid for by the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, to take four months.
"I'll probably get to see the ball drop in Times Square this
year," said Strickland, who is from California.
Strickland works out of a high-tech trailer parked on the
edge of the dump. Inside are maps of the New York area, tasks
and reminders scribbled onto whiteboards, and several computers.
He says by Saturday he expects to have a thousand vehicles and
roughly four thousand people working on the cleanup.
The debris hauled to the site by the Army Corps is being
combed over by workers for the Environmental Protection Agency,
then trucked over to Staten Island, put on a barge and floated
up the Hudson river to a landfill near Albany.
At the site, the EPA workers don full-body suits and gas
masks and then scramble through the piles of debris to pick out
hazardous materials like aerosol cans and electrical appliances.
Other EPA workers test the air for a range of hazards
including bacteria, viruses and fungal agents, hazardous fumes,
and lead paint. Workers on the site are drawing on experiences
from Hurricane Katrina and the devastating tornado that hit
Joplin, Missouri, over a year ago.
The Army Corps said it has hauled 4,500 tons to Jacob Riis
already; the sanitation department, which is also using the
site, said it has cycled through ten times that amount.
Instead of sending debris upstate via barge, the sanitation
department has been moving it to landfills out of state,
including one in Pennsylvania. Citywide, the department said it
has collected a quarter of a million tons of debris.
"It's historic, the amount of tonnage," said Joe Hickey,
assistant sanitation chief at the department. He added that if
the debris piles were to be lined up end to end they would
stretch for two miles.
Though the flow of debris from the streets has slowed a
little, the cleanup job is far from over. Strickland said New
York City officials have determined that around 350 homes in the
city are beyond salvation, including 80 in Breezy Point alone.
If all goes according to plan, the city will condemn the
houses and demolish them, and Strickland's team will help haul
away the rubble.
Once the debris is gone, Hickey said the sanitation
department will bring in street sweepers and other machines to
scrub away the last traces of the dump.
"When the Department of Sanitation gets done with this, if
you didn't know already that this is used the way it's been
used, you would never know," he said.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Todd Eastham)