MARSH HARBOUR, Abaco – There is a rhythm to the work here.
Men lug and tug debris. Heavy equipment weave in, out and around piles of rubble, lifting and hauling, filling and refilling 10 dump trucks every hour on the hour to carry away what is left of The Mudd – a shantytown amongst the largest in the nation before Hurricane Dorian leveled it.
Like the people who once called this place home, The Mudd has its share of secrets that have gradually been unearthed over the last six weeks by workers of CPS, a subsidiary of Bahamas Striping Group of Companies (BSGC) specializing in heavy duty cleanup, maintenance and pavement preservation.
Halfway through its three-month contract with the government to clean up The Mudd, workers have sorted and discarded tons of waste: white waste (fridge and stoves), e-waste (electronics and digital devices), green waste (trees) and construction debris.
More importantly, they have also retrieved two bodies and at least one firearm.
“We wanted to ensure that the work we were carrying out was not just a rushed process, but one that allowed us to meticulously and carefully sort through the debris and ensure that we were not just bulldozing and carrying away what might be human remains,” said Dr. Allen Albury, BSGC’s managing director.
“Everything discovered is handled with dignity. A protocol was established from the very beginning as to what would be the steps taken if there were any significant discoveries on the site.”
A Category 5 hurricane, Dorian left behind a gargantuan debris field, ripping mature trees from the ground, upending 40-foot containers, boats and cars, and smashing homes to bits and pieces.
“This is something you might see in a war-torn country, perhaps somewhere experiencing civil war,” said CPS project manager, Peter Bascom, a civil engineer.
A former deputy director for the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit which dealt with Hurricane Matthew in New Providence and the Family Islands, Bascom said not even in pictures has he witnessed devastation similar to Dorian’s.
Further complicating matters, The Mudd provides the worst possible working conditions for the necessary heavy equipment cleanup.
“There is a layer of mud that sits underneath the ground. Residents of The Mudd placed fill dirt on top of that to build. There is a way to reclaim land and this is not done properly,” he said.
“When we first came, we brought a lot of big, heavy equipment like the D8 and the 345 excavators. Those machines were too heavy for this geotechnical environment. We had to change course, bring smaller machines and send them ahead to conduct explorations. If we were to just drive over it, the machines would fall in. That was a lesson we learnt the hard way. We had a D8 tractor stuck for three days.”
CPS learnt to first locate the foundations of homes, break those up and use that rubble to fill in swampy spots and weak cesspits, which were typically adjacent to the foundation and not built to code. This way they created a structurally sound path for heavy equipment to traverse. Doing things any other way could land the company’s machinery up the proverbial creek.
With corpses, hazardous materials such as gas tanks and sink holes to watch for, CPS has had to proceed slowly all the while praying the weather holds. Heavy rains would make their work near impossible, quickly saturating The Mudd, which sits at water-table level, according to Bascom.
“This is not just a pick up and drop off to the landfill job,” said CPS project manager, Anthon Deveaux.
“We must clear, sort and then drop off, proceeding with caution every step of the way. This is sensitive operation. This is what we do. We all have a sense of personal responsibility to not only be a part of the cleanup, but to get it done right.”