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Earthquake: The Long Road Back : Quake Drops New Work on Demolition Company : Recovery: Anaheim firm has workers on the job round the clock tearing down and removing rubble caused by temblor. It has crews at five freeway overpasses.


ANAHEIM — What Mother Nature starts, Roger Stull's company finishes.

"Earthquakes are our forte," said Stull, president and majority owner of Penhall International, an Anaheim-based demolition company. "And right now we're very busy."

Using track loaders, cutting torches and giant jack-hammer-like excavators, Stull's employees are working around the clock to tear down and remove the tons of concrete rubble caused by this week's temblor.

Penhall is working on five fractured freeway overpasses, several hospitals and parking garages, and will soon clear the wreckage of the downed Jumbotron scoreboard at Anaheim stadium.

When it comes to such work, Penhall is one of the nation's leaders, largely because it is one of the few that has experience working under earthquake conditions. In the past, the state called upon Penhall to remove debris left in the wake of the Sylmar and San Francisco earthquakes.

State transportation officials say speedy demolition of damaged freeways is essential to getting California's car-crazy public back on the road. Penhall, they said, is an integral part of that objective.

"I think everyone recognizes that this a major priority because of the way it impacts California's economy," Caltrans spokesman Joe Shaw said. "We'll be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get this done."

Shaw said Penhall is one of four companies under contract with the state for the freeway demolition. The others are: C. A. Rasmussen of Simi Valley, C. C. Myers of Rancho Cordova and Granite Construction Co. of Watsonville. He did not know how much the companies were being paid for the work, but Penhall said it was charging the state $25 to $300 per hour for each piece of equipment and its operator. Each work site has about 12 workers.

Leroy B. Penhall founded a cement and masonry company in 1957 in Anaheim. Later, he branched out into concrete breaking, grooving and grinding as the need for such services arose in the fast-growing Southland.

In 1975, the company was sold to Stull, who continued to expand the company's services, including earthquake cleanups. Last year, the company brought in $76 million in revenue, the most in the United States for a demolition company, Stull said.

On Wednesday, it was clear from the people who gathered to watch the demolition of the Santa Monica Freeway's Fairfax Avenue overpass that Penhall's work is desperately needed--even if it isn't necessarily appreciated.

"I don't care who's doing the work as long they get all this concrete out of the way," said Sammy Rollins, 42, who lives in the area and uses Fairfax Avenue to get to work. "It's an inconvenience."

Michael Washington, 35, of Culver City said he came down to the Santa Monica Freeway work site to figure out how he could bypass the problem on his way to work.

"I drive Downtown all the time and this could be a major hassle," he said. "I hope they fix it soon."

Throughout the day, Penhall workers became unintentional media stars as nearly a dozen television news cameras documented their cleanup progress.

"This is what we do," site supervisor Scott Campbell said, unimpressed by all the attention. "We just try to do it as quickly and safely as we can."

Campbell said the work is carefully choreographed to guard against injuries and cleanup complications.

"We'll want to eat through the concrete, break it apart," he said. "We don't want it to collapse. We hate that word."

As Campbell spoke, his crew methodically tore down, scooped up, and hauled away the rubble. Machines that are several stories tall punch through the dangling concrete, knocking it to the ground. Bulldozers pick up the heap and load long tractor-trailers that haul it to nearby dumps. Some of the concrete is ground up and used as base material for new cement mixtures.

"We've been through this several times," Campbell said. "The circumstances are unfortunate, but the work has to be done. These are major freeway arteries that have to be cleared."

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