US storm turns airport into vast used-car purgatory


Published — Saturday 12 January 2013

Last update 13 January 2013 12:21 am

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CALVERTON, New York: Mother Nature in all her fury tossed them about like toys. Now they fill two airport runways — parked, obedient and damaged — as they await nibbles from buyers.
Cars — thousands upon thousands of them, of every size, color, make and model — roughed up to one extent or another by Superstorm Sandy in October are crammed into a New York-area airport on Long Island.
The spectacle gives new meaning to the concept of used car lot. Seen from a plane, the mass of motorized detritus is draw-dropping.
The vehicles were purchased by Insurance Auto Auctions, a link in the US economic food chain that feeds on this kind of disaster-born mess.
Sandy and its hurricane force winds roared up the US east coast for several days in late October and finally crashed ashore with devastating force, killing more than 110 people, flooding the New York City subway system and knocking out electricity for hundreds of thousands of people.
The floods and wind destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and left coastal communities gutted. Congress has just now approved nearly $10 billion in emergency aid, the first installment of $60 billion requested by President Barack Obama.
The Sandy-hit cars here sprawl over two runways that stretch 2 and 3 kilometers (1.5 and 2 miles), respectively. They sit in end-to-end rows of two or three vehicles each, packed tight together like batteries. The runways form a letter L.
It is not clear how many cars ended up in this vast, paved purgatory. The first area rented by IAA covers 54 acres (22 hectares) but the company later contracted for more — the stretches where planes taxi.
“They started to fill it at the end of November. It has to be clean for April,” said the pilot of a small plane taking an AFP crew for a ride to view the ocean of cars. He asked that his name not be used.
Some cars look like they came through the storm relatively unscathed. Others are pretty smashed up. Big trucks come and go with a constant hiss of brakes and roar of engines, bringing in fresh unwanted cars and taking others away.
IAA is able to rent the runways because the airport opens only in summer.
The airport is owned by the town hall of nearby Riverhead. It will take in more than a million dollars from IAA under an initial 6-month rental agreement.
Security guards will not let rubberneckers into the airport for a gape.
IAA is getting rid of the vehicles at bargain prices, such as $2,025 for what was once a nice 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Many need lots of costly repair work.
IAA is auctioning the cars here in Calverton, elsewhere in New York and New Jersey and on-line. Buyers have two days to get them off the airport runways.
The rental agreement signed by the company and Riverhead town hall says more than 200,000 cars in nine New York counties were flooded by Sandy.

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