Hurricane Debris Piles Up in Louisiana

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Row after row of refrigerators at a landfill in Jefferson Parish, La. i

Row after row of refrigerators at a landfill in Jefferson Parish, La. Before the cleanup is over, this dump may hold 250,000 fridges. Howard Berkes, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Howard Berkes, NPR
Row after row of refrigerators at a landfill in Jefferson Parish, La.

Row after row of refrigerators at a landfill in Jefferson Parish, La. Before the cleanup is over, this dump may hold 250,000 fridges.

Howard Berkes, NPR

Most of Hurricane Katrina's vital statistics are well known by now: 1,000 people dead, a million displaced. Hundreds of thousands of homes damaged.

Debris by the Numbers

Estimated amount of debris from hurricanes Rita and Katrina in Louisiana alone: 55 million cubic yards

Number of landfills and transfer sites accepting hurricane debris in Louisiana: 76

Amount of Louisiana hurricane debris collected to date: 3.8 million cubic yards

Average cost of removing, trucking and disposing of Louisiana hurricane debris (according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency): $26 per cubic yard

Rate at which hurricane debris is reaching Louisiana landfills and temporary dumps: 200,000 cubic yards a day

Number of hurricane-damaged refrigerators collected so far in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana: 5,500

Number of refrigerators expected to eventually end up in a Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, landfill: 250,000

Some of the food items found so far in hurricane-damaged refrigerators moved to a Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, landfill (according to the EPA supervisor on site): Fish, a slab of ribs, meat of all sorts, roasts, eggs, milk, condiments and ice cream.

Weeks that many hurricane-damaged refrigerators have held non-refrigerated food: 6

(Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, except as noted)

But did you know that in Louisiana alone, 55 million cubic yards of debris have been collected? That's enough to fill the Superdome 11 times.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is supervising one of the most massive cleanup projects ever undertaken. At just one dump site in Louisiana's Jefferson Parish, 450 trucks arrive on a daily basis to dump vegetation, which is turned into mulch from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., seven days a week.

At other sites, the dumptrucks disgorge sheetrock, furniture, chairs and carpet... the remains of ruined homes. There are also remnants of people's lives, including photo albums and children's toys. "It's sad," says Mike Bourgeois of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "You look at it and you look at the people's lives that are in this debris."

Then there are dumps reserved for potentially toxic material, including refrigerators and freezers. At one Jefferson Parish landfill, 5,500 refrigerators reside, creating an unrelenting stench. Before it's over, a quarter-million are expected.

Workers in splash suits, wearing respirators, drain refrigerant and pour bleach on rotting food, working through bouts of nausea.

There are 75 landfills and dump sites in use in Louisiana alone, and it could be a year before the trucks stop coming.

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