A fuller picture of the scope of recovery in downstate New York after Hurricane Sandy is emerging as local residents return from the area and others continue to help with the relief and cleanup effort.
Among the latter is Oneonta resident Maj. Erik Stevens of the 204th Engineer Battalion of the New York Army National Guard, headquartered in Binghamton. The heavy combat engineer unit deployed downstate Oct. 26, even before the massive storm had left the area, Stevens said Monday from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, where the battalion has set up a forward operating base.
“We staged the engineer equipment … at Camp Smith (a training base near Peekskill), and took all of our high-axle vehicles down into the city,” he said. “Because, what we saw last year in Schoharie County is … the initial response is going to be with the high-axle vehicles and being able to ford the high water and actually rescue people and get to where most vehicles can’t.”
“Once we figured that the rescue operation was over with, we were instructed to get our engineer equipment and start a debris-clearing mission,” he added.
That equipment includes bulldozers, dump trucks, loaders and skid steers, he said.
About 300 members of the engineer battalion are working from Floyd Bennett Field, doing cleanup along the Rockaway Peninsula, one of the hardest-hit areas.
“We’ve got three shifts that are working 24 hours, around the clock in eight-hour shifts,” Stevens said.
“What we’re focused on as far as debris clearing is just getting the debris out of the streets so people can drive through the streets,” he said. “What we’re finding, though, is that as we clear the initial debris, they’ve already got contractors in their homes, ripping down Sheetrock and damaged building materials and throwing that into the streets for us to pick up.”