Rubble will fill 1,000 trucks a day
The team included women in skirts shoveling for all it's worth, but it barely made a dent in the mountain of debris that was once a shopping center in Haiti's quake-devastated capital.world Updated: Feb 23, 2010 10:03 IST
The team included women in skirts shoveling for all it's worth, but it barely made a dent in the mountain of debris that was once a shopping center in Haiti's quake-devastated capital.
While it may not seem so, judging from the absence of heavy equipment at the site, removing rubble is an urgent matter, and not only because of the many bodies still trapped under buildings in ruin throughout Port-au-Prince.
Massive mounds of rubble are blocking drains and canals that are crucial in preventing floods when the heavy rains begin around May. Those made homeless by the quake who live in low-lying camps face more catastrophe if flooding occurs.
On top of that, potential new camp sites for the homeless need to be cleared of debris to relocate thousands of people now crammed in overcrowded, makeshift settlements.
Aid officials say clearing all the rubble from the quake will fill 1,000 trucks a day for more than 1,000 days. So why bother with shoveling?
"It's just to help the unemployed," said Robert Jean Louis, site supervisor where a cinema, pharmacy and grocery store once stood.
The goal is a worthy one, with so many people out of work in this impoverished country, and Louis said the shovelers, who earn five dollars a day, were only the initial phase of a plan that will later bring in heavy equipment.
It was unclear if aid officials have designated his site a priority, though it does contain some very large drains.
But asked when the heavy equipment would arrive, Louis thought for a moment, then said, "not yet."
"Maybe in one month," said the head of the digging team hired by aid group CHF International. "Could be longer, could be less."
Rubble removal is another indication of the catastrophe's daunting scale. Other urgent tasks include food and shelter distribution, as well as improving living conditions in the squalid camps that are home to more than a million people.
On top of that, Haiti's badly crippled government faces a lack of heavy equipment to clear the rubble left by the 7.0-magnitude quake that killed more than 217,000 people.
US Colonel Gregory Kane said on Monday he believed there were now enough trucks in the country and in the neighboring Dominican Republic to handle the job.
Kane said drains and canals will have to be unblocked quickly because of the coming rains.
"That will overwhelm the storm water mitigation system that they've got in Port-au-Prince if the rubble is not cleared out," he said.
And up to 19 camps housing tens of thousands of people in and around Port-au-Prince are considered to be in low-lying areas, he said.
Canadian Deputy Commanding General Nicolas Matern of the Haiti Joint Task Force said because the demand for shelter is so urgent ahead of the rains, rubble removal will focus on what is needed for the camps.
That includes clearing space to create new settlements to ease overcrowded sites that are becoming a health risk, he said.
Matern said the quake created between 20 and 25 million cubic yards (meters) of rubble.
"Enough to fill five Superdomes," he said, referring to the US stadium in New Orleans that housed thousands of people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"Or put in other terms, 1,000 trucks (a day) for 1,000 days," he said.
"What we're doing to support the shelter initiative is we're focusing our rubble removal in the immediate zero to three months on the settlements, as opposed to trying to do everything at once," he added.
At the site of the crumbled shopping center, the workers picked away, wearing masks to keep from breathing in the clouds of cement dust and the rancid smells emanating from the pile.
Workers there said they were glad to be working despite the low pay. Louis, the supervisor, said it was only the beginning.
"We have several sites to clear out," he said. "Overall, what is needed is to clear the canal to allow water to drain."