Debris as a Long-Term Recovery Problem

Huge amounts of debris, much of it in the Pacific ocean, was a major issue after the Sendai earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Now we are seeing the U.S. version with massive amounts of debris in the Atlantic Ocean in the aftermath of H. Sandy. See this article from the AP:  Hurricane Sandy Debris Threatens Tourism In New Jersey, New York, Connecticut.  Since beach vacations are a major income source for the states affected, they are scrambling to make their beaches attractive and safe for visitors.  Some excerpts from the article:

On the surface, things look calm and placid. Just beneath the waterline, however, it’s a different story. Cars and sunken boats. Patio furniture. Pieces of docks. Entire houses. A grandfather clock, deposited in a marsh a mile from solid land. Hot tubs. Tons of sand. All displaced by Superstorm Sandy.The sunken debris presents an urgent safety issue. Swimmers could cut themselves on submerged junk, step on one of thousands of boardwalk nails ripped loose, or suffer neck or spinal injuries diving into solid objects. Boats could hit debris, pitching their occupants overboard, or in severe cases, sinking.

The cleanup won’t be easy, fast or cheap. “The amount of debris that needs to be removed is mind-boggling,” New Jersey Gov.

Chris Christie said, ticking off the statistics in his state: 1,400 vessels sunk, broken loose or destroyed during the storm.

One concern I have heard being voiced by people working in NJ to help with recovery is whether state and local officials are thinking about long-term economic needs and not just getting ready for this summer’s vacation business.

Debris that floats and is the size of an island

English: PACIFIC OCEAN (March 13, 2011) An aer...

Image via Wikipedia

We usually think of debris and debris removal as things to deal with shortly after the response phase of a disaster.  In this case huge quantities of debris must be dealt with during the long term recovery phase. Talk about  far-reaching effects:  the debris is traveling for thousands of miles in the ocean and is impacting nations on the other side of the globe.

Scientists on the west coast have determined that the first signs of a huge, multi-year hazard is arriving on U.S. shores: debris from the massive tsunami that occurred in March. See First debris from Japanese earthquake/tsunami reaches Olympic Peninsula.  The [Olympic] Pennisula Daily News that that islands of debris from the March 11 Japan tsunami that are slowly floating toward the Pacific. Some details from that article:

Tons of debris washed out to sea when a tsunami struck northern Japan after a massive magnitude-9.0 earthquake March 11.

About a quarter of the 100 million tons of debris from Japan is expected to make landfall on beaches from southern Alaska to California, possibly in volumes large enough to clog ports, Ebbesmeyer said.

Using models from a historic shipwreck that occurred 20 miles off Neah Bay, Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham have determined the path of debris that comes into that area off the Washington coast.

They said debris will be snagged by currents leading into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and that a large portion of it will end up on beaches from the mouth of the Elwha River to Port Townsend.

Many ocean models have shown that the massive congregation of flotsam that washed away from devastated Japanese coastal cities is in the middle of the Pacific and won’t make landfall in the U.S. for another year or two.

In the U.S., the debris may clog seaports, affect marine life, and make boating more hazardous.  And who will bear the cost of clearing the debris?