Haiti Seeks A Home For An Endless Sea Of Debris One of Haiti's most urgent problems is what to do with the estimated 25 million cubic yards of debris left after the massive earthquake in January. The Haitian government is struggling to find safe sites to dump the rubble, even as more structures are slated for demolition.

Haiti Seeks A Home For An Endless Sea Of Debris

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

One of the biggest problems facing Haiti is what to do with the tons of rubble from fallen buildings - an estimated 25 million cubic yards of debris. Compare that to the 1 million cubic yards of waste that New York City had to deal with after the 9/11.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: Haitian President Rene Preval likes to say it will take a thousand dump trucks a thousand days to get all the debris off the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Gary Marcel is one of those enlisted in that Herculean task.

Mr. GARY MARCEL: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says he fills his truck with debris from the devastated downtown streets six to seven times a day and queues up in line with dozens of other trucks dumping their load at a private port on the bay of Port-au-Prince. Since the quake hit more than two months ago, all that dumping has added nearly 30 yards to the length of the port's jetty.

It's been difficult to find suitable sites to put all the debris. There's little open space in the densely populated capital, and driving to locations far outside Port-au-Prince wouldn't be very efficient. So, in the meantime, dumping at the water's edge and in the nearby marshlands has been going on with little oversight and few questions asked.

Mike Byrne, who works for the USAID, says concerns about dumping at the port are now being addressed.

Mr. MIKE BYRNE (USAID): There is an environmentally sound way to do that, and that's the way that we're going to do it. It's going to take us a little while to get that in place and so that it's done the right way but we are confident that we'll be able to make it work.

KAHN: In fact, USAID just signed a $3.5 million contract with a South Florida firm to manage the debris site.

Youri Mevs, who is a co-owner of the private port, says in the chaotic weeks after the earthquake she was glad to help out. But since then she says she has not been consulted about dumping on her land and was not informed about the USAID contract.

Ms. YOURI MEVS: We found out after the agreement was made and we found out as the company that was afforded the contract moved onto the premises.

KAHN: Mevs says her company has just signed its own agreement with Sante Holding Corp. to redevelop the private port. She says the government does not need a protracted legal battle that could harm Haiti's image at a time when it's asking foreign donors to fund the country's reconstruction.

Ms. MEVS: They would hate for this to stain the movement or damage it.

KAHN: The need for secure sites to dispose of debris will only get more urgent as anxious homeowners and businesspeople start demolishing their badly damaged property.

U.N. and U.S. engineers have just launched a program to help landowners determine whether their structures are safe enough to inhabit, and they're training Haitian inspectors to make that determination.

(Soundbite of men speaking foreign language)

(Soundbite of vehicle honking)

KAHN: On a street in the Turgeau neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, the engineers pore over a map of the area and try to decide which structures to assess. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John Blackwell, who's overseeing the project, says he's surprised by the preliminary inspection of buildings here. So far, they found that nearly half of them are structurally sound.

Lieutenant Colonel JOHN BLACKWELL (U.S. Air Force): Initially, when you drive through, just because you're seeing a lot of debris that, you know, mixed in, it appears as though that the damage would be a much higher percent.

KAHN: But in fact, Blackwell says, out of the 900 buildings they had inspected, 44 percent were given a green light. The engineers will give the structure a yellow tag if work is needed and a red tag if the building is unsafe.

As the team heads onto the sprawling campus of a nearby private university, the engineers head for the basement of the school's three-story main building.

(Soundbite of men speaking foreign language)

KAHN: The engineer focuses in on the support column - all have huge, X-shaped cracks in them.

Unidentified Man: Red, red.

KAHN: He shouts out red, red. The huge building will get a red tag and will need to be totally demolished.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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