Hurricane Rita caused massive property damage in 22 counties in east and southeast Texas, and that doesn't include 771,000 acres of trees that were blown down. The Army Corps of Engineers has been working seven days a week to get it all cleaned up, and Colonel Steve Haustein of the Corps' Galveston District says he can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"We had a 22 county disaster area, and we're still operating in about nine counties. Four of those are pretty much complete and will be done within a week or so, leaving five counties that will stretch out for the next two to six weeks. We've removed 3.9 million cubic yards, and to give you a visual on that, that would fill the Astrodome three times."
Haustein says 80 to 90 percent of the debris is vegetation -- dead trees, tree limbs and such. The Corps is grinding it into mulch and giving it away to anyone who has a use for it.
"Paper mills are taking quite a bit of it as fuel for their operations. Some cities have taken up to five thousand yards to make it available to their citizens for gardening and yard mulch operations."
And they're burning the mulch they can't give away. Haustein says the cleanup is complete in all but nine of the 22 affected counties. He expects to finish up in Orange, Newton, Jasper and Hardin counties in the next couple of weeks, and in the remaining counties, including Jefferson County by March 1st.