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States hit hard by Sandy must remove tons of debris from waterways, including houses, before the summer swimming and boating season.

Sunken Sandy debris a threat to tourism

– On the surface, things look calm and placid. Just beneath the waterline, however, it’s 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 cleanup 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.”

Coastal areas of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are racing to remove untold tons of debris from waters hardest hit by the Oct. 29 storm before the summer swimming and boating seasons begin.

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 amount of debris that needs to be removed is mind-boggling,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, ticking off the statistics in his state: 1,400 vessels sunk, broken loose or destroyed during the storm. In one shore town, 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.

“Big Al” Wutkowski, a locally famous striped-bass fisherman who volunteers as the Barnegat Bay Guardian for the American Littoral Society environmental group, is worried about what still lurks beneath the waves.

“When people start putting their boats back in the water in April, I know they’re going to start hitting stuff,” he said. “It’s impossible not to hit stuff. It’s also a lot shallower in places now.

“A lot of the lagoons are filled in with sand. People can’t get their boats in or out.”

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