Haiti begins tearing down Port-au-Prince without rebuilding plans in place

As an excavator digs into the mound of twisted steel, cement, shoes and spreadsheets that used to be the downtown branch of Sogebel Bank, swarms of young men plunge into the debris.

They drag out file cabinets, electrical boxes and anything else that might contain a few grams of metal.

The heavy machinery was hired by the bank to look for the vault and the director's office, a security officer said. The scavengers were there to scrape out a living.

More than two weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake, the work of taking apart a ravaged city is slowly, and chaotically, beginning.

While aid agencies and the government are still focused on tending to the hundreds of thousands left homeless and injured, many Haitians are picking up the pieces and moving on.

The government estimates that 25,000 government offices and businesses either toppled or need to be demolished. In addition, there are 225,000 residences that are no longer habitable.

In all, some 2.1 billion cubic feet of concrete and rubble need to be hauled out of the city.

However, there is no official demolition plan in place yet. Asked about tearing down the teetering buildings that crowd the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince, the spokesman for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Vincenzo Pugliese, said demolition is part of the reconstruction effort.

"I know it's a priority but other discussions have to take place before that," Pugliese said. "We are moving too far ahead if we start talking about reconstruction efforts."

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