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Debris piles begin to appear as people in Central begin the process of recovery. Aerials of severe weather flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish on Monday August 15, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG

Thursday marked the third day Stephen Chalmers and his siblings were still at work gutting out their mother's home in the Sherwood Forest area following historic rains and flooding in the Baton Rouge area.

The front lawn of the Major Oak Drive house was littered by a nearly four-foot high mound of damp furniture, water-damaged doors and washed-out electronics -- all now trash.

Mounds like that could be found in front of nearly every home in the Sherwood Forest area where as much as three feet of water gushed into homes. The scene was much the same in Central, north Baton Rouge, Denham Springs and other places where floodwaters have receded enough to allow residents and work crews back in.

"We have no idea when they'll start picking it up," Chalmers said. "Hopefully as soon as possible."

When those piles start to disappear from the curb will depend on where the house is located.

That work started Thursday afternoon in Central, while the service in Zachary and East Baton Rouge Parish will begin Monday. Zachary hopes to begin on Monday, but as of Thursday afternoon, officials were in the process of accepting contractor proposals to do the work.

“We’re going to have someone on the roads today,” said Central Mayor Jr. Shelton Thursday. “My main thing is if you get debris off the road, you boost morale. Right now it’s depressing to see all the debris.”

A temporary contractor, Central resident Dennis Stewart Equipment Rental, started picking up debris in Central Thursday afternoon with a permanent debris contractor to be in place next week, he said. There’s no estimate at this point how long it will take to get all the debris picked up, Shelton said, “The time is when the last piece of trash is picked up.”

 

While debris is typically required to be on the right of way in order for collection to occur, Shelton said he’s working with contractors to bend that rule a bit. 

“There is so much debris coming out of these houses, there’s not enough room on the right of way,” Shelton said. “It may be there needs to be more than one round.”

He's also asking for donations of hammers and other hand tools that people can us to clean out homes. Donations can be delivered to Central City Hall.

In Zachary, debris pickup will begin Monday through their contractor CERES Environmental out of Houston.

“We activate our contract at the first of every hurricane season,” said Mayor David Amrhein.

As of Thursday morning, about 75 to 80 percent of the 500 to 700 homes flooded in the storm were already gutted and cleaned out, Amrhein said.

“The community came together and pitched in to help their neighbors,” Amrhein said.

It’s estimated that the first sweep of debris pick up will take about a week with another sweep to happen a couple weeks later, he said.

“We want to get back to normal as fast as possible,” Amrhein said. “No hurricane has ever done this to us.”

Julie McCulloch, public works director and chief administrative officer with Baker, said the city has asked contractors to submit proposals and they’re due back to the city by Friday. The hope is to get a company selected that can get started Monday. In a rough estimate, she said about half the 7,000 homes in Baker were flooded.

“Riding down the street looking at all the debris and it’s just bad,” she said.

It’s a different type of debris from hurricanes, too, which means most of the material will need to be taken to landfills instead of the tree debris that could be stockpiled somewhere until it could be handled, she said.

The rest of East Baton Rouge Parish will start seeing debris pickup on Monday, but it’s going to take some time to get all of the flood debris now filling up sidewalks in town to area landfills.

Pickups will begin in the northwest portion of the city where the flooding hit first and people have had more time to clean out their homes, said Karen Khonsari, director for city-parish environmental services.

“We’re going to roll the way the storm did,” she said.

A lot of volunteers, family and friends will be in the parish this weekend working to clean out homes, Khonsari explained, which means debris will be ready by Monday morning. However, if people are out of town or don’t get a chance to clean out everything by the time debris trucks pass through, don’t panic.

“We’re coming back through,” Khonsari said.

She estimates debris contractor, DRC Emergency Services, will make passes through flooded areas three times during this next phase of clean up for many people.

Some residents are concerned that one contractor won't be enough.

“The resources normally available to us will not be enough to handle the amount of trash and debris” said Metro Councilman John Delgado. “That’s a lot of material that’s going to come out – carpet and sheetrock, it’s going to be a lot. We will certainly need more manpower to handle the debris, it’s almost going to be unimaginable.”

Khnosari said DRC Emergency Services has all the resources that will be needed and updates about the pickup process will be posted on the city-parish Facebook and Twitter pages. A hiring event is being held 1 p.m. Friday at the Baton Rouge Marriott Hotel, 5500 Hilton Ave. to work on the debris removal. People interested should bring proof of valid driver’s license and car insurance.

“The public needs to be patient. There’s a lot of waste, but we’ll get there,” Khonsari said.

Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa could not say when debris removal will begin in the parish, but he urged residents to separate their debris into three piles: appliances, trees and branches, and other household items such as furniture and carpet. The parish will use its existing debris removal contractor, DRC, he said. An emergency contract won't be necessary, he added.

There are several important things people should remember to do as they put out the debris for pickup.

The state Department of Environmental Quality released guidelines this week on how best to get debris out to the curb for easier pickup.

While keeping the debris away from telephone poles, fire hydrants or other objects that could make picking up the debris difficult, people cleaning out their homes are asked to create five piles – yard waste, household chemicals and paint, appliances, electronic equipment, and building materials and furniture.

Debbie Boyd, who lives in the 1400 block of South Sherwood Forest, is afraid that piles of debris could attract critters and other unwanted vermin if allowed to sit too long.

The trash mounds definitely aren't helping with the foul stench that has been permeating through the subdivision since floodwaters dried up, leaving mud covered sidewalks and streets in its wake.

"Anything over a week, I think, is too long," Boyd said about debris pick-up.

“People are going to have to be patient,” said Greg Langley with the state Department of Environmental Quality. “They can make it easier by segregating it into five different waste streams.”

The city-parish is also asking that sandbags not be put in garbage carts because they’ll rip out the bottom when the truck tries to pick them up.

 

Staff writers Andrea Gallo and Joe Gyan contributed to this story

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.