HURRICANE FLORENCE: A mountain of debris

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Wilmington region starts clearing mass of downed trees, branches after Hurricane Florence

Imagine a football field — 360 feet long (including the end zones) and 160 feet wide.

If New Hanover County and the city of Wilmington were to stack the estimated 1.1 million cubic yards of trees, limbs and leaves sent to the ground during Hurricane Florence onto that field, it would measure more than 550 feet high.

“That’s a lot of crap,” said Joe Suleyman, New Hanover’s director of environmental management.

And that doesn’t include Pender and Brunswick counties — neither has been able to estimate the amount of vegetative debris that will have to be collected and disposed of in the weeks after Florence brought high winds and record rainfall to the region.

New Hanover has 40 crews working in unincorporated areas collecting vegetative debris from curbsides and will begin collecting demolition debris — things like siding, roof tiles and damaged walls — on Monday, Suleyman said.

Wilmington spokesman Dylan Lee said city officials do not know how long it will take its 45 crews working throughout the city to pick up debris.

“We’re in the first pass,” he said. “Once we get through the first pass, we hope to have a better estimate. There will be a second pass.”

Watching a crew remove the debris is somewhat cathartic. On New Orleans Place, a crew from RPF Inc. used a huge vehicle featuring two massive containers with a boom arm at its center to pick up debris. It is then carried to a deposit site — the city has two — where the sticks and limbs are ground up and converted to mulch.

New Hanover County crews are operating somewhat differently — grinding the material on site, then hauling it to the landfill to be converted to mulch. The county is also collecting material at two other sites — Ogden Park and Veterans Park — where material will ultimately be processed at the landfill.

Brunswick County also will make more than one pass — it started collecting all manner of items, including vegetative and construction debris, household appliances, electronics and hazardous waste on Wednesday.

“Crews will move through the county several times collecting debris; debris that is not picked up on the first collection will be picked up on a subsequent collection,” said Brunswick spokeswoman Amanda Hutchenson.

Pender County was in the early stages this week of collecting vegetative debris — it started Tuesday. The county couldn’t start earlier because of rampant flooding, said Tom Collins, director of emergency management for the county.

“Our debris (collection) sites were so wet we couldn’t get to them,” he said. “We have quite a bit of vegetative debris.”

Carolina Beach has also begun collecting debris, including household hazardous waste, which can be dropped off with the New Hanover County HazWagon each Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the southern side of Mike Chappel Park on Sumter Avenue, according to a release from the town. The town has also begun curbside pickup of other debris.

The governments have several requests of residents placing vegetative debris. They include not blocking roads, fire hydrants or mail boxes; separating vegetative debris from things like normal household trash or construction debris — which will be picked up separately; and to avoid using plastic bags, which can damage machinery used to grind up sticks and limbs and also ruin batches of mulch.

“Our crews will pass on anything with plastic bags,” Suleyman said. “They’ll drive right by them.”

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or