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NewYork Strongest Haul Debris; Give Hope

By Ed Shevlin

When the storm hit I was out on sick leave from my job as a NYC Sanitation Worker. A nasty virus had laid me low for a few days but I was over it and intended to resume full duty on Tuesday morning. My plans would not survive first contact with the enemy.

With my cupboards full of canned goods and several cases of bottled water on hand, I hunkered down in my apartment to ride out the storm. As the tempest howled like a thousand banshees and wind born sand lashed against my windows I watched my car float away on the tide. The power went out and a strange glow illuminated the face of 102-00 Shorefront Parkway. With nothing better to do, I went to sleep. Tomorrow would be a long day I thought.

When I awoke on Tuesday morning I went out on my terrace for a look see. The violence of the storm was evident. The boardwalk was in our parking lot and the only sound was that of the wind whistling through the trees and between the buildings. Shorefront Parkway was gone, buried under three feet of sand. The entire landscape was unfamiliar to me. It was time to report for duty.

I loaded my backpack with survival gear, donned my uniform and trudged out into the field in search of my comrades. I found them clearing sand with a front end loader and several dump trucks on Shorefront Parkway. These were difficult times. Our department was knocked back on its heels for awhile. The DSNY Medical Clinic, downtown on Beaver Street, had been inundated by New York Harbor and was not in operation. Communications in general were greatly compromised, making coordination between resources difficult. I needed a resumption from sick leave in order to work. I had to get to work!

A friend, Superintendent Matt Butler, recognized the urgency of my need and went through channels to secure me a resumption in the field. Hallelujah! Like the Minutemen of old, the local Sanitation men began to report for duty that day. Twenty seven of our number had been displaced along with their families. They walked miles to report for duty, they hitched rides, they did whatever they had to do to man the equipment that was so vital to the recovery of our hometown. The recovery would be a long, protracted affair.

Over the following weeks and months, we gave our all. With their families safe on Long Island or in Brooklyn, many of our local Sanitation Workers and Officers took up residence at the Q14 garage on Beach 51st Street, most notably Deputy Chief Jim McGovern, who used his pull to secure cots, medical supplies and emergency rations for the crew. We worked endlessly to try and alleviate the suffering of the townspeople. Household collection operations morphed into debris collection with many trucks loading out with 14 ton loads after servicing only two homes. They would dump their trucks and return to service within an hour! Our snow clearing plans, with many amendments, were used to attack the omnipresent sand. This proved to be a most effective plan of battle.

While the work of digging out and collecting debris was hard enough on the day shift, the night shift was markedly more difficult. The volunteer kitchens that fed us by day were closed up at night. There were no street lights to illuminate the hazards presented by the twisted, mangled debris that had to be lifted by hand onto the trucks. By both day and night, Sanitation Workers refused medical attention for their wounds and injuries preferring instead to continue their efforts which were apparently making a difference.

As recovery operations continued over the months, we had many visitors at our roll calls which continued our Esprit de Corps. President Bill Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg, DSNY Commissioner John Doherty, Speaker Christine Quinn, and many other dignitaries all came to pay us a visit.

As I predicted in a NY Times interview, everybody but the DSNY has gone back to whence they came but we are still here with you. We continue to pick up storm related debris and will always be here to help you for we are the Strongest, we are the New York City Department of Sanitation, the best in the world!

Rockaway resident Ed Shevlin is with DSNY QE 14

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