HOUSTON (Reuters) – Disposing of the mounds of debris lining Houston streets three weeks after Hurricane Harvey flooding damaged about 126,000 homes is riling residents and officials in the nation’s fourth largest city.
The sheer volume of work is overwhelming initial efforts, say residents, resulting in pleas from officials for the state and private contractors to contribute vehicles. Houston also is offering to increase its fees for emergency trash removal to bring in more waste disposal trucks.
“We have been asking for more trucks for weeks,” said Greg Travis, a Houston city councilor whose hard-hit west Houston district had just two trucks operating one day this week. There is no schedule of collections nor estimate when one would be available, he said.
Houston’s trash haulers are working side-by-side with a disaster contractor’s crews from San Antonio and Austin, Texas. The city’s size, about 627 square miles (1623.92 square kilometers), is larger than Los Angeles or New York.
Across Texas, the debris left behind by the storm could reach 200 million cubic yards – enough to fill up a football stadium almost 125 times, Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimated on Thursday. Harvey’s path up the Texas coast killed as many as 82 people, flooding homes and businesses with up to 51 inches of rain.
“We have no idea when it’s going to be picked up,” said Houston resident David Greely, 51. “It’s overwhelming.”
DRC Emergency Services LLC, the city’s contractor for emergency trash removal, has about 300 trucks operating in Houston and surrounding areas, according to President John Sullivan.
“We’ll reach 500 trucks in the next few days,” he said.
Houston is renegotiating its contract to expedite the work, Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for Mayor Sylvester Turner, said on Friday.
An 8.9 percent temporary property-tax increase proposed this week by the mayor would pay for damage to city property and for costs not covered by the United States. Turner estimated the cost of debris removal is $200 million.
Contract renegotiations are common during disasters, according to DRC’s Sullivan.
“There has been price adjustments for debris contractors across Texas for Harvey recovery, not just Houston,” he said.
Some well-to-do neighborhoods have begun considering paying for private trash haulers to pick up the debris.
“I don’t know if I’m on the city’s list for trash cleanup,” said Eric Olafson, 62, who added his neighbors are discussing paying private contractors to remove their debris.
(Reporting by Bryan Sims; Editing by Gary McWilliams and Diane Craft)