STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Did you hear, just now, Jason talking about an enormous pile of rubble that was about to fall over? An estimated 20 million cubic feet of debris was created by the earthquake. And only about five percent of it has been cleared. Whole neighborhoods remain choked with rubble, and residents cannot begin rebuilding until it's removed. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports on how some residents are not waiting for the government. They're dealing with the debris by hand.

CARRIE KAHN: To reach many of Port-au-Prince's hillside neighborhoods, you have to walk up steep, narrow pathways. In the community of Delmas 62, which clings to the capital's hills, passages are so tight, your arms must stay straight by your sides.

The buildings are so close to each other, conversations and tiny church gatherings easily waft out open windows.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

KAHN: The quake crumbled hundreds of the two and three-story homes here. There's no way a bulldozer can get in. But this is Haiti, and people have found a way.

(Soundbite of crushing rubble)

KAHN: With the help of the charity CRS, Catholic Relief Services, hand-cranked - yes, hand-operated crushing machines are reaching dense, hillside communities.

Niek de Goethe of CRS says 15 machines are now in Haiti, imported from Swaziland. He says 32 more are on the way.

Mr. NIEK GOETHE (Camp Coordinator, Catholic Relief Services): It's such an appropriate solution for Haiti. I mean, imagine trying to get heavy equipment, you know, down the hill where there's no road. And you can, you know - this is what you need. Otherwise, they're going to be there, you know, 10, 20 years from now.

KAHN: The machine's parts are carried up the labyrinth of tiny walkways. It's reassembled, and the crushing begins.

Amos Laguerre is sweating profusely. He makes about $5 a day cranking.

Mr. AMOS LAGUERRE (Rubble Crusher): (Through translator) It's hard, but we work, however. We - big effort, to as - to get the work done.

KAHN: It takes three men to do the crushing. Two crank the handles, while one drops boulder-size debris between the metal crushers. Singing helps the men get through the mind-numbing labor.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

KAHN: The crumbled rubble is collected in buckets. Sand and gravel are separated into plastic bags. On a good day, the crew fills 125 bags - about five cubic meters. No one says this is a solution to the city's rubble problem, but it is making a difference in small neighborhoods, like Delmas 62.

The bags of recycled rubble are mixed with cement and poured to make the foundations of temporary wooden shelters Catholic Charities hands out to residents.

(Soundbite of crushing rubble)

KAHN: Soly Santhea and her family are living in one of CRS's wooden shelters, in the same spot where their two-story house collapsed. It took them weeks to clear the rubble, but they had no other option. Her mother, father and two siblings were living in a nearby tent encampment. But a few months ago, the owner of the land evicted everyone.

Ms. SOLY SANTHEA: (Through translator) We never even dreamed of coming back here. Everything was so destroyed. You couldn't even get into the neighborhood.

(Soundbite of crushing rubble)

KAHN: But Santhea says she went to the Catholic Charities office over and over again, and finally they came up with the idea to bring in the hand-cranked rubble crusher.

Ms. SANTHEA: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: She's so glad to finally be back home.

Ferdilia Escane, Santhea's mom, says if it weren't for her daughter, dozens of families wouldn't have been able to clear their lots and come back home.

Ms. FERDILIA ESCANE: (Through translator) She was key in getting our neighborhood cleaned up. It's not just me saying this. Everyone knows what she did. She got us organized, got us help. And she's just a girl. I'm so proud of her.

KAHN: Catholic Relief Services says it hopes to build 8,000 sturdier shelters throughout Port-au-Prince by April. They think they might reach that goal even sooner, depending on how fast the hand crushers crush.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

(Soundbite of music)

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