Hauling away Harvey’s debris an enormous, urgent task

Of all the challenges that Texas faces after Hurricane Harvey, few are more visible than the millions of pounds of debris crowding curbs and edging onto streets. The cleanup from northeast Houston’s neighborhoods to the wealthy suburbs will take months and cost billions.

HOUSTON —

On Labor Day, Pireta Darby sat on the front porch of her house in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood. The fruits of her labors were before her: the sodden objects lugged out of the home she shares with her mother and granddaughter. Here were two couches piled high with ripped-out carpet. A coffee table. A folding chair. And so much more, removed from the family home of about 60 years.

“I guess they’ll just come with the big truck with the claw thing” to haul it away, she said, gazing at the mess; at least the family has insurance.

The piles up and down this street, and along many other nearby streets — shards of wallboard and mildewing carpet, artificial flowers and computer monitors — stand taller than some people. There are sofas and desk chairs, ironing boards and drum sets — discrete items all destroyed by a storm and the floodwaters that followed. Across this city, there are more than 100,000 such piles, many of them even larger.

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Of all the challenges that southeast Texas faces after Hurricane Harvey, few will linger longer or more visibly than the millions of pounds of debris already crowding curbs and edging onto streets. The cleanup, needed from northeast Houston’s neighborhoods to the wealthy suburbs southwest of the city, will take months and cost billions of dollars.

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston has identified two priorities for his city’s recovery: housing and debris removal.

“We’re going to pick it up, and we’re going to operate with the highest degree of urgency,” Turner said.

At the same time, Houston officials are asking residents to separate their Harvey-related waste into five piles: appliances; electronics; construction and demolition debris; household hazardous waste; and vegetative debris. A look at these streets suggested that few people seemed to be heeding the city’s pleas.

Other cities have been through this battle with a storm’s leavings. After floodwaters inundated East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, last year, crews collected about 2 million cubic yards of debris. Superstorm Sandy, in 2012, led to about 6 million…

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