Sitting alongside a pool of water, the women wash their clothes in oversize tin basins. But the sound of water sloshing against stone washboards is drowned out by the monstrous trucks transporting tons of rubble produced by the Jan. 12 earthquake. Rivière Grise, stretching from La Viste national park, to the south of Port-au-Prince, to the capital’s bay, has become an illegal dumping site for debris. “They usually come at night to dump the rubble. They used to dump during the day, but then we started to run after them,” says Jesner Jeanjul, 47, who has lived in the area known as Ti Moulin all her life. Jeanjul says she would wake up each morning and there would be new piles of rubble in the riverbed. Merely a trickle at present, the waterway usually overflows during heavy rains — and locals are afraid of catastrophe now that its course is obstructed with huge pieces of concrete and rock.
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“Debris could significantly change the flow of the river and could create flooded rivers that overflow to make more banks,” says Scott Solberg, director of Sun Mountain International, a socioeconomic-development and environmental organization. He says that the potential new channels can cause flash floods, which could wipe out entire tent cities during what is anticipated to be an active hurricane season.
But there is so much debris to dispose of — 20 million to 25 million cubic yards (15 million to 19 million cubic meters), enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome five times — and only one approved dumping site for the entire country, the Port-au-Prince terminal Varreux. “They are dumping randomly everywhere,” says Dan Strode, operations manger of rubble removal for the Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF), a project funded by USAID to clear streets and collapsed homes.