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What happens to all the Katrina debris?

Vesay of Army Corps of Engineers explains volume, process of cleanup
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Before those in the areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina can rebuild their homes and get their lives back in order, the debris from damaged property and nature must be collected and taken away.

Col. Tony Vesay of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joined MSNBC's Amy Robach on Monday from Biloxi, Miss., where he explained how his operation will go about cleaning up the mess left behind by Katrina.

Vesay noted that the amount of debris offers an unprecedented challenge.

"FEMA tells us the initial estimates (are for) about 20 million cubic yards of debris," he said. "To put it in football terms ... that's about 200 football fields filed about 50 feet high."

That, according to Vesay, means it will be awhile before the debris can be fully cleared.

"We estimate it's going to take eight months to get it off the streets and probably about a year and a half to dispose of it completely at our reduction sites with incinerators," he said.

With much talk about the concern about hazardous material mixed into the debris, Vesay explained how the Army Corps of Engineers would handle hazards.

"We do everything we can at the initial stage to separate the hazardous material from the non-hazardous and then at the reduction sites ... to separate the hazardous material before we even reduce it further," Vesay said. "The incineration process - upwards of 2000 degrees - will take care of what little we believe will be intermingled."

As for items that cannot be incinerated, Vesay said that they will be handled separately.

"There are really two broad categories. There is burnable and non-burnable. In terms of burnable, there are vegetative, lots of trees down, and we can put that in a grinder, in a chipper. There's non -burnable, refrigerators, appliances and we take them all to their respective disposal or containment sites and dispose of them properly," he said.

To watch the entire interview between Tony Vesay and Amy Robach, click on the "Launch" button on the video player above and to the right. with and can be seen weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon.