Construction worker freed from drainage ditch after being trapped in dirt for hours

5:06 PM, Aug 14, 2012   |    comments
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CLEARWATER, Florida -- Imagine being stuck below ground level in muddy soil that creates suction around your waist. That's what a construction worker went through for several hours when he somehow became trapped in the dirt at a city storm drain maintenance project, then continued to sink. 

It took three hours for rescue crews to pull him out, but the 57-year-old was conscious and responsive, and was rushed to Morton Plant Hospital to be evaluated. 

"The soil was so loose and saturated," says Elizabeth Watts with the City of Clearwater. "As we continued to dig it out, more kept coming in, and he kept sinking further down."

Because of that, Watts says it was one of the most challenging rescues they've ever encountered. The man was stuck six feet below ground with soil tightening around his waist.

Thirty-five firefighters from Clearwater and Pinellas Park jumped in to help, and worked in shifts because of the heat. But soil seemed to fill every hole they dug.

"They put him in a harness and they had to go in and dig the dirt out from underneath and actually push him up onto the ladder to get him out," Watts says.

Three hours after the rescue started, you could hear the sound of success as he was pulled out and loaded onto a stretcher. Crews and spectators cheered.

Caladesi Construction was the contractor at the site. In a statement, the company says, in part, "When the employee became stuck and could not immediately be freed by himself and/or coworkers, emergency help was requested... our main concern at this point is the health, safety, and welfare of our employee."

Caladesi is a private contractor for Clearwater, and Watts says the company has had no previous problems in the city.

However, they have run into issues with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Since 2008, inspections have resulted in seven serious violations with fines. The company's most recent inspection found them to be in compliance.

In 2010, Caladesi was included on a nationwide OSHA list called "15,000 Companies with High Injury Rates."

OSHA will be investigating this incident.

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