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Huge Iron Needs Loom for Cleanup of Tsunami-Hit Areas

Wed January 12, 2005 - National Edition
Pete Sigmund



“I haven’t seen a single bulldozer,” said a CNN newscaster reporting from a Indonesian fishing village where pieces of homes, trees, piers and boats lay as far as one could see, like large pieces of broken kindling, after being swept away by massive tsunami waves, which churned and roared from the sea and up the river on the morning of Dec. 26.

Huge numbers of dozers, excavators, backhoes and other equipment will be needed, observers say, to rebuild homes, bridges, roads, shops and other structures which were washed away by the sea’s might.

The tsunami took an estimated 150,000 lives in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other countries and left landscapes resembling devastated battlegrounds.

Though getting food, fresh water, medicine and vaccines to survivors is the top priority, earthmoving equipment for rebuilding infrastructure, generators to provide power, and new water utility systems are high on the needs-list in the global relief effort, which already has raised at least $3 billion.

The need for earthmoving equipment was accentuated by photos and TV film of elephants moving tree trunks and other debris.

“The tropical nature of the forests typically doesn’t allow equipment to quickly reach the stricken areas,” commented Nick Yaksich, vice president, government relations, in the Washington, D.C., office of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). “Elephants have had more mobility where trucks or heavy equipment haven’t been feasible. There’s no question there’s still a big need for heavy equipment to do general cleanup and trucks to deliver food.”

Water polluted by death and waste endangers the lives of many thousands of survivors.

“Many of the areas were underdeveloped, but where there was infrastructure, much of it was wiped out and will require rebuilding,” said Eben Wyman, vice president of government relations at the National Utility Contracting Association (NUCA) in Arlington, VA. “There will be a huge public health problem from polluted drinking water.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, D.C., which is coordinating the $350-million U.S. relief effort, told Construction Equipment Guide, “We have teams out there assessing needs. Once they provide the information, we can move ahead on equipment. At this point, we’re swamped.”

Estimates of funds raised from private donations in the United States are now well more than $100 million.

The tsunami waves, which initially moved as fast as 500 mph, thundered onto the shores after a massive earthquake split the earth’s crust under the Indian Ocean off the western coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The waves hit as far away as Somalia and Tanzania in Africa. An estimated 100,000 people died in Indonesia, 30,000 in Sri Lanka, 11,000 in India and 5,100 in Thailand.

Donations for relief of tsunami-hit areas may be sent to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. 800/435-7669.