Ridding the Hurricane Zone of Debris
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Gulf Coast is covered in debris from southwestern Louisiana to Mississippi and Alabama. The Yates Construction Company helped build the casinos and hotels in Biloxi, Mississippi. Now it's one of three contractors the city has hired to haul away the tons of debris left by Hurricane Katrina. There was a competitive bid process right after the storm. Yates is being paid $16 per cubic yard to collect, haul and sort debris. William Yates is the company's president.
Mr. WILLIAM YATES (Yates Construction Company): There are slot machines from the casinos. There are refrigerators. There are cars in places that cars shouldn't be. There are all sorts of collapsed wood structures that you're not even really sure where they came from; lots of signage, just a lot of mass that you can't even tell where it originated. It's just now metal and wood and other debris in between.
BLOCK: Where do you start? How do you organize this effort?
Mr. YATES: Well, you have to come up with a plan that makes sense. And another big challenge we've had is actually transportation and hauling. We've had all these bridges and roads that have been affected, and so actually getting the debris from point A in the city to point B outside the city has been a whole nother challenge. So we've had to deal with issues like staging debris at an intermediate location and then waiting until traffic is not quite as bad and then trying to get the debris out of the city.
BLOCK: Where are you trying to take it?
Mr. YATES: Well, we're taking it to approved landfills. Some of it, if it meets the qualifications for burnable material, it's being burned.
BLOCK: What would be burned? What kinds of stuff?
Mr. YATES: Just wood products that aren't painted or don't have any harmful substances on them.
BLOCK: So somewhere along the line you have to be sorting this stuff out, figuring out what gets burned, what gets put in a landfill.
Mr. YATES: That's right.
BLOCK: How do you do that?
Mr. YATES: Well, it's just a visual process with supervision. And you make sure that if there's any question as to whether it's burnable or not, you go ahead and assume that it's not.
BLOCK: How much progress have you been able to make since Katrina came in?
Mr. YATES: Significant progress. We--the way our contract works is we have to make four passes down every street in our area. We're complete with the first pass, which means we've now gone through every street and picked up the debris on the side of the road. We have three more passes left. Logically it'll--you know, we'll probably get less and less as the major debris gets picked up. And so, you know, we're probably in terms of passes 25 percent complete, but in terms of actual debris removal, I would say we're closer to 50 percent complete. Of course, the debris removal is just a small part of what it's going to take to build our community back.
BLOCK: As the president of a construction company, you've got to be thinking about that end, too, about the rebuilding.
Mr. YATES: Sure. I mean, that's what we do, and we take pride in it. And there's a need for our services now. And there are all sorts of mixed feelings on our behalf because we have had--we think we have lost one employee that has been identified and we think possibly another one. We've had over 60 of our employees who have substantially lost their homes, and so it's very, you know, upsetting from that standpoint. But at the same time we feel a responsibility that we have to help build our community back and do it as quickly as reasonably possible and do it in a way that creates a bigger and better Biloxi for the future of all of us and all our kids and all of our grandkids.
BLOCK: Mr. Yates, thanks very much.
Mr. YATES: No problem.
BLOCK: William Yates is president of Yates Construction. He spoke with us from Philadelphia, Mississippi.