The morning after Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, workers in the Sanitation Department started putting in 12-hour shifts to help clean up debris.
The change from three daily shifts to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts has helped push forward the cleanup along the coast of the city.
Rocco DiRico, deputy commissioner of support services, said the department has diverted collection vehicles from areas of the city not hit as hard in an effort to aid the cleanup. He said because of preventive maintenance, equipment is holding up well.
"Everyone is fatigued, but they have a really good attitude," he said. "The guys are tired, but they are very, very enthusiastic. Their heart and soul is in the recovery effort."
While damage from the storm hit many cities on the East Coast, the biggest municipality in the country to do its own hauling was right in the middle of it. New York City sanitation workers collect residential trash and recycling while private haulers collect commercial operations.
The city suspended recycling collection for the entire city until further notice and the department reduced normal collections in parts of the city that were least damaged. The heavily impacted areas have been receiving around-the-clock work.
Enforcement officers were not writing violations for refuse left at the curb during the emergency, and the city was asking residents to separate appliances, perishable garbage and general debris to help speed up collections.
In an update on operations, city officials said the sanitation department collected more than 55,000 tons of refuse and debris, with 270 collection vehicles and 114 front-end loaders dedicated to the effort.
Ten days after the storm hit, some city facilities that DiRico oversees still didn't have power or water, he said, but generators are keeping things running.
"Some of the buildings themselves are not back to normal business," DiRico said.
One worker from the department was badly injured while cleaning up from the storm. City officials said Michael Lewery, 46, was on a route Nov. 4, nearly a week after the storm slammed the city, when he received an electrical shock from a downed power line. Lewery was hauling a refrigerator when the incident happened, sending him to Staten Island University Hospital where he was listed in stable condition.
"The accident he suffered shows that there are still dangerous conditions out there, and despite these dangers, city workers like Michael are out there working on our behalf, around the clock, and they really do deserve our gratitude," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a press conference.
Bloomberg praised Lewery for going back to work despite his own home and community being hit hard by the storm. He also praised the work of the sanitation department.
"I've been visiting the parts of our city hit hardest by the storm – here in the Rockaways, and in Coney Island, and the south shore of Staten Island, and one thing I hear in all those places is the need for debris removal and the incredible work the Department of Sanitation is doing," he said, according to a statement from the city.
The U.S. EPA said it was assisting with the cleanup efforts and warning residents about items that had been flooded for several days, saying residents should avoid standing water left over from the floods. In a release, the agency said residents should be mindful of chemicals in homes, including paints, cleaners, oils and pesticides.
"These products contain potentially hazardous ingredients that require special care when you dispose of them," the agency said.
John Skinner, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, said while its Silver Spring, Md., office was closed for two days, the group escaped the worst of the storm.
"The D.C. area was not hit as badly as northern New Jersey and New York," he said. "We had high winds, some trees down and loads of rain, but we didn't have the extensive flooding that part of the country had."
He said local government in the area had been praised for their proactive response to the storm. Skinner said the key to an effective storm response is advanced planning.
"If you do your planning in advance, you can be in a much better position to deal with the situation if you know what you're going to do and you don't have to make it up on the run in the middle of the emergency," he said.
The organization, which represents municipal haulers, put a number of documents on emergency response on its website for free download.
"We've been getting a lot of hits," he said. "All of them are there for everyone. You don't have to be a SWANA member to download them."