Hauler Heroes: Hurricane Responders
Locations affected by Harvey:
Texas and Louisiana
Locations affected by Irma:
Florida, South Carolina, Caribbean Islands
Locations affected by Maria:
Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
Steven Zapata had seen his fair share of storms. Compared to Hurricane Ike, which ripped his roof off in 2008, Harvey didn't seem quite as bad. That was before the reservoirs unexpectedly flooded swaths of Houston homes around the office of his employer Nexus Disposal.
In response, Zapata and his team did what they knew best: started running routes and filling up their trucks. Only instead of waste and recycling, they were collecting their neighbors.
"It felt like it just was natural and it was something that I think anybody and everybody would have done," said Zapata, director of operations for Nexus. "The city of Houston received a lot of praise for neighbors helping neighbors and that’s exactly what we are at the end of the day."
For the next 12 or so hours, Nexus ran five 40-yard trucks back and forth to help expedite evacuations. Each trip brought 35 to 40 people to county buses. After multiple days of storm effects, local resources were already stretched thin and residents in this part of the city had never seen their homes flood before. According to Zapata, no one had any hesitation about jumping in the back of a waste truck. Days of rain had already rinsed them out and it was the only available option. Some of the kids even seemed to enjoy it.
The city of Houston received a lot of praise for neighbors helping neighbors and that’s exactly what we are at the end of the day.—Steven Zapata, Director of Operations for Nexus
That same week, Waste Connections offered up space in its suburban headquarters to Waste Management after the company's own offices experienced storm damage in Houston. In the days that followed, cities from around the state sent trucks and crews in to help begin the arduous task of debris collection. Trucks from Houston's own fleet, and the many private operations such as Nexus, were back on the road as soon as possible to regain control of the situation.
When Hurricane Irma hit Florida and other Southeast states weeks later, communities experienced more of the same. This time it was Advanced Disposal that saw its headquarters get affected. Throughout the state, private and municipal fleets worked overtime both before and after the storm.
During this time, companies made sure employees had lodging, grocery store gift cards and whatever else they needed for their families. Republic Services matched donations from its board of directors and other employees to add an additional $1 million to its own Employee Relief Fund. Waste Management donated $3 million to Harvey relief and $1 million to Irma relief.
In this hectic period many other workers, companies and local governments stepped up in ways that often went unreported. Then, barely a week later, multiple Caribbean islands that were already hit by Irma took an even more direct blow from Hurricane Maria. Before the federal government deployed the full scope of its emergency resources, Waste Management was among many to send supplies to Puerto Rico via private plane. Dozens of collection workers began planning relief trips down there as soon as possible.
This included Teamster crews from New York, both from private companies and the Department of Sanitation, that went down expecting to help collect waste and ended up doing much more. For those who were either from the island or had family there, the experience was especially resonant. Even for those who didn't, the days and weeks they spent volunteering were emotional. Some are already trying to figure out when they can go back.
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