Bulldozers have knocked down brick walls of damaged homes. Teams with chain saws have cut down trees left leafless by flames. Tons of earth soaked with jet fuel have been scooped up and trucked to a landfill.
The three-block swath of almost total devastation left by Pan American World Airways Flight 759 in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner last Friday is well on its way to becoming just a collection of vacant lots.
But the deaths on the ground of eight Kenner residents, including six small children, will not be erased so easily. Nor will the terror imprinted on those who survived fireballs, explosions and hurtling chunks of metal.
"We have a pain now in our hearts that words will never explain," said John Baye at the funeral of his 6-year-old daughter, Lisa, who was caught in the flames as she played at a friend's house Friday afternoon. Jennifer Schultz, 11, was killed there, and Lisa died at a hospital.
Kenner's hardest-hit family was the Giancontieris, whose brick home was demolished. Sandy Giancontieri and her three young sons were killed. Her husband, Robert, attended their funeral today.
Federal investigators believe that abrupt wind changes may have played a role in the crash, which occurred seconds after the plane took off in a rainstorm from Moisant Airport. In addition to the eight victims on the ground, all 146 people aboard the jet died, making the crash the second worst in U.S. aviation history.
As mourning continues in the blue-collar community of 70,000, and multimillion-dollar lawsuits against Pan Am and other parties are filed, there is also a sense of celebration that so many people came close to death but survived.
There is Melissa Trahan, dubbed "the miracle baby" by the local media, a 16-month-old girl who was pulled alive from the rubble of her home four hours after the crash. There is electrical contractor Ted Weems, who took his two sons to the store for bread and milk just before the plane hit.
There is Opal Bode, a 33-year-old mother of three, who was in her bedroom Friday when she heard an indescribably intense noise from the street. She didn't know it, but the 727, moving at close to 100 mph and scattering metal and fuel, had just missed her house by feet. She raced to the den and an explosion knocked her off her feet.
In the house with her were daughter Stephanie, 8, and niece Shannon, 10. Bode looked to the front and saw a curtain of flame outside. Within seconds she had scooped up the two children, one in either arm, bolted out the back door and thrown them over a fence.
Bode says she has not slept well since the accident. "Every time I close my eyes I see it coming at me," she said.
Today, the massive cleanup continued under direction of Mayor Aaron Broussard. Teams worked to break apart the concrete foundation slabs of the 15 houses devastated in the crash or condemned afterward due to cracks caused by shock as the 171,000-pound plane struck the earth.
Many residents expressed anger that demolition proceeded so quickly after quick sweeps by city employes for personal belongings. Electrical contractor Weems, whose fire-damaged brick home was torn down before he had a chance to pick through it, said, "I think the mayor acted very high-handed in the whole damn matter."
Broussard, who had been in office only a week when the disaster hit, said it was necessary to move quickly to avoid a health hazard and to ease memories of the crash.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is heading the investigation, have also clashed with Broussard. At one point, a board investigator protested removal of the wreckage, saying it belonged to the board. Broussard responded, according to an official present, "Lady, this is my city and I want your damn plane out of it."
Despite some bitter feelings, however, Kenner appears generally to have risen to the occasion after the accident. Blood donors, volunteers and clothes had to be turned away. Local merchants "sent over coffee and doughnuts by the pickup truck," said City Councilman John Lavarine.
One lasting effect of the crash may be to revive community efforts to limit the low-level flights over the neighborhood.