Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit work with members of the New York Sanitation Department on Monday to clear out the tremendous piles of debris that have accumulated on Staten Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (Cpl. Michael S. Lockett / Marine Corps)
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Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, greets Col. Matthew St. Clair, commanding officer of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, after landing aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp on Monday. Amos discussed further plans regarding disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy. (Cpl. Kyle N. Runnels / Marine Corps)
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Marines continue their efforts to clean up areas of New York hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, even as officials order some in those same communities to evacuate as they brace for a winter storm to slam the already devastated region.
More than 200 Marines have been assisting with storm-relief in various parts of New York and New Jersey over the past four days. The Marines have been working to pump water from flooded residences and clear debris from homes and streets. Now, as more than half a million residents of those states still remain without power, some of those same communities are under new weather warnings for high winds and coastal flooding as a winter storm — a nor'easter — moves into the region.
Most of the 120 of the Marines on the ground in in New York's Staten Island borough — one of the areas hardest hit by last week's superstorm — are attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The MEU suspended pre-deployment exercises from its base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to fly to the region Thursday and stand at the ready for calls to help with storm relief. It is accompanied by personnel from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366, out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
The Marines have been flying CH-53 Super Stallions to Staten Island from the amphibious assault ship Wasp, which is anchored about five miles off the coast of the city's Brooklyn borough, to provide door-to-door assistance to residents there.
But the storm could prevent them from flying out to help for the next couple of days, said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine Corps spokesman. Flight options will likely be a no-go in the storm, he said, so unless there are other means for the Marines to reach the shore, their efforts there could be delayed slightly.
On Sunday — their first day on Staten Island — Marines primarily hauled heavy items that residents couldn't move themselves out to the streets. Washers, dryers and freezers were stuck in people's basements, filled with water and mud from the flooding caused by 20-foot waves and a 14-foot storm surge that hit during the late October hurricane. Marines formed assembly lines to clear debris from homes and shoveled the slippery, thick mud that caked people's driveways and sidewalks after the storm.
By Monday and Tuesday, the Marines there teamed up with the local sanitation department, Flanagan said. They moved the debris lining the streets into garbage trucks that were transporting the trash to a central location on the edge of town.
"Once all this trash is out, it frees up traffic so other sorts of vehicles [like emergency or service trucks] can get in and out and do what they need to do," he said.
Prior to their work on Staten Island, Marines worked with sailors from the Wasp to help repair a ferry terminal — a local transportation hub — for the residents in Hoboken, N.J., a community hit hard by the superstorm that is across the Hudson River from New York City.
Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett visited the Wasp on Monday. The top officer and enlisted leader praised the Marines and sailors aboard for their quick response to the hurricane's destruction before heading off to meet with officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, according to a Marine Corps news release.
With the threat of the nor'easter moving into the area, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued an evacuation notice Tuesday for three area nursing homes and one adult care center because the storm, expected to hit Wednesday afternoon, could knock out power there completely. The centers are now running on generators, so there is worry that a lack of power would pose a serious health risk to the residents.
The four centers are in the same area of city's Queens borough where Marines with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion have been working with industrial strength pumps to remove water from flooded basements and crawlspaces. The detachment of 87 Marines arrived from Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Saturday to assist with water relief.
The engineer detachment spent its first two days in the area pumping more than a million gallons of water from a 34-building low-income housing complex in the Far Rockaway neighborhood in Queens. After completing their work there on Monday, the Marines moved west to the Breezy Point neighborhood Tuesday to pump more water and remove debris from residents' houses, said 1st Lt. Timothy Irish, spokesman for First Marine Corps District in New York.
"It is truly an all-government approach on the ground," Irish said. "The effort has been organized into three eight-hour shifts of Marines running a series of 150- and 600-gallon per minute water pumps to get the water out of spots further inland out to the ocean."