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Disaster Cleanup

Cleaning up after disasters

When natural disasters strike, from Hurricanes across Texas to mudslides in California, the news reports are full of information, shocking images, and stories of tragedy and heroism alike. However, such is the pace of the world we live in today, that a week later, the story has moved elsewhere, and the last we hear about those terrible situations are the images of houses buried or destroyed, flooded roads, and so on. How many of us think about what happens next, and how such devastation is cleared up?

The most important thing to occur after the devastating disaster like the mudslides in California earlier this year took place long after the TV crews and cameras had gone to the next story, and that was the long process of cleaning up, salvaging what was possible from wrecked homes and clearing up the roads to make them useable again.

Using a range of equipment, the cleanup specialist’s first challenge is not moving the mud, but the mud itself. With potential contaminants including oil, gas, pesticides, sewage, and a wide range of chemicals washed out of people’s homes, it’s a potential health hazard in its own right. Care when moving the mud was essential, and teams of dozers, loaders, and dump trucks from specialists such as National Plant Services were employed to move the huge quantities of mud, which was dumped at the coast to reinforce costal protections and prevent yet more problems from storm flooding.

With the most significant volume of mud removed in the first month, attention then turned to the infrastructure of the region. Each manhole had to be opened and checked individually, a difficult task with some invisible due to the layer of mud. The entire city collection system had been affected by the mud, and every drain, sewer, and access point had to be checked by hand. To accomplish this, teams of contractors and city workers worked together, using maps to identify where access points should be, and using dozers to scrape away remaining mud to get at them.

In some cases, where opening the manhole revealed mud right to the top, and here Vac-Con trucks were deployed to clean out the sewers and restore normal operations. Camera equipment was used to assess areas that were less obviously obstructed, and much of the work involved removing large stone and rock debris from within the pipes, left behind by the mud.

With the constant hazard of the mud and debris around them, this is tough work for any contractor, and it took 2 months of 7 days a week, 15 hours a day shifts to finish the disaster cleanup. With teams from three different disaster cleanup specialists aided by city workers and national guard engineers working together to complete the task, that is a lot of manhours and a lot of unsung effort.

It might not be as attention-grabbing as the disasters, but the people who find themselves struggling in the aftermath of any such event need the men and women who clean up after the cameras have gone. Maybe it’s time we all said a thank you for what they do.

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