TEXAS CITY, Texas -- With most of the debris removed from public roads and highways in areas affected by Hurricane Ike, the push now is to complete cleanup operations in bays and lakes along Texas' upper Gulf Coast, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Governor's Division of Emergency Management (GDEM) said Friday.
When Hurricane Ike blasted Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula on Sept. 13, 2008, countless volumes of debris ended up floating or submerged in the Galveston Bay system and area lakes, including splintered wood, chunks of concrete and broken glass from homes and businesses. Also deposited in the water were stoves, refrigerators and other household appliances; beds and mattresses; vehicles, boats, barges and much more.
"You only have to look at a map, and the placement of communities affected by Ike, to see why so much debris from Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula ended up in the bays," said Kelly Huck, supervisor of FEMA's Debris Group. "Anything you can imagine in a household went into the water."
A good deal of the debris became embedded in the silt and mud of the bays' floors, including a 70-foot steel-hulled shrimp boat that crews will attempt to free near Goat Island - once they locate equipment capable of handling such a job.
To expedite the cleanup mission, state contractors are using technology to pinpoint submerged debris. Utilizing side-scan sonar, the state's contractors are mapping sunken debris throughout the Galveston Bay system as well as in Clear Lake and Sabine Lake.
In all, the state is scanning more than 357,000 acres of submerged land for Ike-created "wet debris," debris of any kind that is floating or below the water's surface. Using sonar, the contractors can search large areas quicker than they could with divers alone, while not putting divers at unnecessary risk.
FEMA's debris specialists are working side by side with the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which has jurisdictional authority over the state's submerged lands and thus is the primary applicant for FEMA Public Assistance grants to help pay for the cleanup work. The FEMA specialists also are monitoring the operations on land and on the waterways.
"Cleaning up wet debris from our bays and lakes is a massive, time-consuming and costly undertaking," said Joan Haun, the GDEM's state coordinating officer for the Ike recovery effort. "Federal grants for this work will provide vital financial assistance to the state."
To date, nearly 85 percent of the 357,000 acres has been surveyed and 55 percent of the identified wet debris has been removed. (The GLO has said the removal of wet debris from areas eligible for federal assistance in the Gulf of Mexico is complete).
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared federally maintained navigable channels such as the Intracoastal Waterway and the area ship channels within weeks of the disaster, while the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency took charge of the swift cleanup of hazardous debris in area waters.
Meanwhile, debris removal is progressing in Galveston Bay, Trinity Bay, East Bay and West Bay, as well as the two large lakes.
"FEMA strongly supports the state's efforts to ensure eligible waters are cleared of debris as soon as possible and no longer present a health and safety threat to the public," said Federal Coordinating Officer Brad Harris.
FEMA leads and supports the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation, to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all hazards including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.