Alejandro Fernandez-Lovo likens the mountain of tree trunks, tree limbs and branches blocking his Coral Gables street from Hurricane Irma to a prehistoric wasteland.
“Ever remember watching “Jurassic Park?” That's what my neighborhood looks like,” he said Monday.
And with Hurricane Maria roaring through the Caribbean as a “potentially catastrophic Category 5” hurricane, he’s more than a little concerned the debris could weaponize as airborne missiles if the storm strikes South Florida.
“Let’s say Hurricane Maria decides to come here. What’s going to happen?” asked Fernandes-Lovo. “This debris is not secured. It’s not hunkered down. It’s going to cause more damage than what Irma has brought to us.”
Coral Gables, like many municipalities, said Monday it will take weeks to clean up all the damage from Hurricane Irma. In fact, the city of Miami said Monday it will take four to six months to clean up the mess.
County and city leaders urged people to be patient.
“Some of these trees are up to 10 feet wide,” said Peter Iglesias, the Gables’ assistant city manager for operations and infrastructure. “We’re expecting to pick up over 170,000 cubic yards of debris. It’s going to take time.”
The Gables said it began debris removal on Saturday and has 22 city trucks along with 10 crews and contract trucks, which it says are three times larger than city trucks. It said it secured two large volume grinding/chipping machines and a third as a back-up.
Miami-Dade is expecting to pick up 3 million cubic yards of debris in unincorporated areas and cities that contract with it: Aventura, Cutler Bay, Doral, Miami Gardens, Miami Lakes, Opa-locka, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest and Sunny Isles Beach.
In 2005, Hurricane Wilma left behind about 18 million cubic yards.
“After Wilma, it took 60 days from beginning to end,” said Paul Mauriello, deputy director of the county’s Solid Waste Management department. “Although it’s entirely possible for it to take that long, it’s hard to tell right now.”
Tree debris removal is done by local governments and their public works departments, along with hired contractors. State roads are cleared by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The government crews and contractors tackle critical and heavily traveled roads first like those surrounding schools and hospitals. Residential streets and neighborhoods follow. According to FEMA, which reimburses governments for a percentage of the cost of trash removal following a disaster, the debris could be hauled to landfills, burned or made into mulch.
The City of Miami estimated Monday about 1 million cubic yards of debris from Irma sit on Miami’s streets. The city figures it will take four the six months to completely clean the streets and swales. The Department of Solid Waste, along with two outside contractors, are doing the job.
Many residents, still reeling from days without electricity, are frustrated with the slow speed.
David Zisman says the debris delay only adds to the frustration of not having electricity. Zisman lives in Palmetto Bay, which like other parts of southern Miami-Dade, has been told by FPL it wouldn’t have power back until at least Tuesday.
“We have a downed light pole on Southwest 139th Street and Farmer Road. Never picked up. Wires all over. I guess it will take a person being electrocuted to get anyone's attention,” Zisman said.
Per FPL guidelines, city workers can’t clear trees until FPL clears the lines.
Others were concerned about the dangers the debris posed to their neighborhoods.
“It’s a total fire hazard and my green grass is sure to turn brown,” Ryan Dovenberg of Palmetto Bay wrote on Facebook. “This is unacceptable. It's been eight days and the pile is still there.”
Julio Blanco of Homestead said he thinks there’s a faster solution: “Maria is on her way to blow it all away.”