Houston Mayor: Debris pickup is the city's 'number one priority'

Mounting piles of debris are adding to frustrations in many Houston neighborhoods.

On Tuesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called cleaning up debris from flooded homes piled up on the curbside his “number one priority” now that Tropical Storm Harvey has left the region.

Turner said the city’s Solid Waste Management crews and contractors have been working sunrise to sunset since Harvey hit. Officials say the storm “severely impacted” about 126,000 homes city-wide.

Harry Hayes, director of Solid Waste Management for Houston, predicted that the city’s debris cleanup effort alone would cost around $200 million, compared to about $125 million after Hurricane Ike.

Hayes say around 150 crews are picking up debris piles across the city, while other officials tell KHOU that 42 SWM employees are doing so even while dealing with flooding in their own homes.

Turner said crews from the city of San Antonio have already been helping in areas like Kingwood. Several crews from the city of Austin should arrive as soon as Thursday, and deals with other cities are possible.

George Pesina, who lives in the Denver Harbor neighborhood of East Houston, says he’s been cleaning out his home near I-10 and Wayside since last Tuesday.

“You don’t realize how much junk you have until something like this happens,” said Pesina, who lives with his grandmother.

Nearly every house on the surrounding streets suffered the same fate.

“It’s hard to look at,” said Ernest Ramirez, Pesina’s uncle. “This is a blue-collar neighborhood. We’re not Meyerland Plaza. We’re not Kingwood. We’re the forgotten neighborhood.”

On Tuesday, Pesina and others in the neighborhood laid eyes on a sight they’ve been waiting more than a week to see: the city's heavy trash trucks hauling away debris.

“It’s about time 'cause the smell is just horrible,” said Pesina. “I’m very grateful that they’re coming out and clearing all this mess out.”

So how do crews decide which debris pile gets cleaned up first? Hayes and other city leaders tell KHOU they’re not playing favorites between neighborhoods. Instead, each morning, they use what they see on the 311 call sheets and driving around the streets to decide who needs help the most. Each truck can carry about one house worth of debris.

Just up the street in Kashmere Gardens, Turner thanked crew members Tuesday afternoon and reassured flood victims help is coming.

“No city will be able to move quicker in cleaning up the debris of this magnitude than the City of Houston,” said Turner.

Now Pesina and his neighbors are vowing to stay faithful, rebuild, and show the rest of the country what Texas is all about.

“Start over again and let God help us out,” said Pesina.

SWM officials ask anyone with debris in front of their home to make sure no one’s parked in front of the pile so crews can reach it.

Any seniors or people with disabilities who need help cleaning up can call 311, as can any volunteers looking to help with that cleanup. The city also welcomes volunteers with trucks that can carry debris.

Turner also said the city is back to regular garbage pickup, with heavy debris in one pile and garbage in black containers. For more information on separating debris, click here.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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