Haiti's Rebuilding Effort Will Be Mammoth Task

One of the challenges in Haiti is what to do with the heaps of pulverized concrete rubble lying everywhere. Before the rebuilding can begin, areas have to be cleared of debris. The pieces of concrete and other material can be recycled and used for other things.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And Im Ari Shapiro. Good morning.

The relief effort in Haiti is settling in for the long road ahead. Bulldozers are beginning to move debris for the massive job of rebuilding. The effort will require clearing away huge swaths of Port-au-Prince and starting over. NPRs John Burnett spoke with a construction magnate about what it will take to make that happen.

JOHN BURNETT: Michael Gay is about to become one of the busiest, most sought after men in Haiti. The lanky 62-year-old Haitian American owns GDG, the countrys largest concrete plant. Its his concrete that went into the two most prominent buildings that survived the quake - the massive new American embassy and the 12-story Digicel Building.

Gay rushed from his home in Naples, Florida to Haiti last week, and hes been in high level meetings ever since, with the Haitian president, international aid agencies and big engineering firms, all quietly planning how to resurrect the city of his birth.

Mr. MICHAEL GAY (Owner, GDG): We believe and we think were going - we hope to have a substantial positive role in helping to rebuild this country.

BURNETT: I don't mean this to sound harsh, but you're in a position to make a great deal of money now.

Mr. GAY: Well, its possible, but to be frank with you, Ive done that. Ive been there. Ive done that.

BURNETT: As a successful civil engineer in the States, Gay worked on some huge projects, such as the construction of the Eisenhower Tunnel where Interstate 70 passes under the continental divide in Colorado. But in terms of quantity, nothing will come close to the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince. Almost every important public building has to be rebuilt - from the national palace to the parliament, to the supreme court, to the ministry buildings.

Before that happens, though, before his concrete trucks can rumble down city streets, they have to deal with the millions of square yards of rubble.

Mr. GAY: Just from a psychological standpoint, the removal - the clean up operation needs to get going. This way, itll at least show to the population at large, that something is happening.

BURNETT: Gays concrete company owns more than 50 pieces of heavy equipment, which are about to be in high demand to remove debris from the city. In the days after the quake, in fact, it was GDGs excavators and cranes that were often seen helping recover bodies.

Today, the little clean up that has begun around town is mostly by hand.

(Soundbite of sweeping)

As aid groups are still figuring out how to get food to hungry Haitians, a blueprint is quietly being created to organize, delegate and commence the debris removal. On that front is a bit of good news. Well, at least not more terrible news.

BURNETT: So rubble is not necessarily trash?

Colonel RICK KAISER (Commander, 20th Engineer Brigade): No. No. I mean, it is if its in the wrong place. It is if its in the road. It is if its in your living area. But its not rubbish if it can be reused, says Colonel Rick Kaiser, commander of the 20th Engineering Brigade from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Hes currently in charge of the U.S. militarys building assessment teams. In the near future, hell be helping to coordinate debris removal.

Kaiser cautions that if everybody just starts hauling broken concrete out of the city and dumping it into the nearest field it can cause new problems, like damming drainage points.

Colonel KAISER: But there are so creative things we can do with the debris. We could create an artificial reef and enhance fishery and fish operations. We could use debris to help shore up mountainsides, where during torrential rains you get this run off. And so theres so many good things that we can do with it. Well help shape the plan, but ultimately its up to the government of Haiti to determine how they want to proceed.

BURNETT: The most common use of earthquake debris is to put it into enormous jaw-like crushers, apply great magnets to remove the rebar, then reuse the crushed concrete for roadbed and construction material. Again, Michael Gay.

Mr. GAY: Take those rubbles and crush them, remove the steel in it, ok, and use it in the future as fill material as you're doing new construction. Its out of the rubbles, hopefully, a new Haiti will be born, is my hope.

John Burnett, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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