Superstorm debris threatens tourism
US coastal areas of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are racing to remove untold tons of debris from waters hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy before the summer swimming and boating seasons begin.
The water sports are two of the main reasons people flock there each year and the underpinning of the region's multibillion-dollar tourist industry.
On the surface, things look calm and placid, but just beneath the waterline it is 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.
"We did a clean-up three weeks ago. Then when we went back the other day, you could still see junk coming up in the wash," said Paul Harris, president of the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association, which helps take care of beaches on which the group goes surf fishing.
"They go and clean it again, and two days later, you have the same thing again. There's nothing you can do about it; you can't vacuum the ocean."
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 clean-up will not be easy, fast or cheap. "The amount of debris that needs to be removed is mind-boggling," New Jersey governor Chris Christie said.
In his state 1,400 vessels were sunk, broke loose or destroyed during the storm. In just one shore town alone, Mantoloking, 58 buildings were washed into Barnegat Bay, along with eight vehicles, and a staggering amount of sand carried from the ocean beaches into the bay. "Everything you can imagine is sitting in our waterways," Mr Christie said.
Florida-based contractor AshBritt Environmental removed 42 boats from New Jersey waterways in recent weeks. Others were corralled by the state police, or by private salvage companies acting on behalf of owners.
Property owners are not being held financially responsible for debris that washed or blew off their property into waterways unless they hire a private company to retrieve a boat they plan to repair and keep, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The state, which issued contracts last week for the water clean-up work, plans to seek full reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of 60 billion dollars (£39bn) in Sandy relief approved by the US Congress.