N.Y. Sanitation's Knights in Shining Packers At 3 a.m. on Saturday Dec. 30, when the first of many snowflakes fell on Times Square, most New Yorkers were dreaming of New Year's streamers and champagne.
But for the city's sanitation workers, these flakes marked the beginning of a 48-hour workday that would end only when the last piece of confetti was swept off the sidewalk just before sunrise on the first day of 2001.
During the first 24 hours after the snow storm began, more than 5,000 sanitation workers and supervisors used 2,000 pieces of equipment to clear Times Square, says Kathy Dawkins, deputy director for the sanitation department's public information office. This included 1,400 collection trucks with ploughs attached, 100 front loaders to move large masses of snow, 55 haulsters (smaller pickups with plows), 353 salt spreaders and a snow melter designed to melt up to 60 tons of snow per hour. An Army of 489 mechanics also were on-hand to deal with possible machinery glitches, Dawkins says, noting that workers flushed melted snow down the city's sewers.
By 7 p.m. on Sunday the 31st, as celebrants began to gather in the square, the snow was gone. But for the 76 sanitation workers charged with cleaning up after the bash, the job was far from completed.
Three quarters of a million people can throw a lot of confetti and discard a lot of debris, according to Dawkins. In total, workers collected more than 35 tons of trash from the square (compared to 50 tons collected on New Year's Day 2000), between 12:40 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on January 1.
Fortunately, the successful snow cleanup allowed paper confetti to remain relatively dry and easy to collect, Dawkins says. Yet because it was contaminated by other debris such as balloons and noisemakers, the confetti was not recycled, she adds.
Looking back at the events leading up to New Year's Day 2001, Dawkins admits the cleanup seemed to last forever. But for most, the department's massive cleanup efforts happened in the blink of an eye.
"People are really marveling at the fact that the department was able to get Times Square cleared in such a short amount of time," Dawkins says.