PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The rubble from Haiti’s shattered capital is rising in heaps at the port, dumped for sorting and recycling by a fleet of heavy, exhaust-belching trucks.
A tangle of twisted metal and broken blocks, it’s an eyesore for now. But officials planning the reconstruction see only value in the debris: material to build roads, expand the waterfront and try to make Port-au-Prince better than before the Jan. 12 earthquake.
About 90 percent of the construction debris can be recycled. Already, the rubble has been used to expand a jetty at the port and build ramps for heavy equipment involved in the cleanup.
“Debris ends up having a number of lives. It’s not just to be gotten rid of,” said Mike Byrne, USAID’s senior debris expert. “The recycling of the rubble, and the potential uses of it, could become economic agents for recovery.”
A large-scale cleanup is just beginning to tackle piles of rubble from the magnitude-7 quake, which generated 20 million to 25 million cubic yards – enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome five times.
Trucks brimming with smashed concrete are now inching their way through the hilly, congested streets of Port-au-Prince. While most roads have been cleared enough for cars to pass, drivers say the biggest problem now is the return of the capital’s notorious traffic.
“I can only make three trips a day, two if traffic is really bad,” said Lucner Jean-Philipe, who waited in the shade as a dozen men tossed the remnants of a collapsed university wall into the back of his Mack truck. The crew wore yellow Haitian government T-shirts saying “Let’s Stand Up!” in Creole.
Jean-Philipe, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, then drove from the Turgeau neighborhood to the private port, passing French and Dominican trucks that other crews were filling with debris.
At the sorting facility, which receives roughly 80 trucks a day, workers separate rubble, rebar and wood by hand.
Once sorted, the debris is expected to aid a government rebuilding plan that decentralizes the country and eases congestion in the overcrowded capital. One key use would be to fill in a waterfront promenade in Port-au-Prince, said Gerard-Emile “Aby” Brun, the chief government adviser on debris management.
With the rainy season approaching, Haiti’s government and international donors are focusing on clearing drainage ditches, many of which had buildings collapse into them. Crews are also targeting rubble that endangers homeless people camped along riverbeds and other at-risk areas.