A race against the clock: A construction worker trapped waist-deep in mud and dirt in Clearwater, 6 feet below the ground. Firefighters had to act quickly, but carefully.
"It's a very slow process and continual shoring, which is wood panels and wood beams to make sure that dirt doesn't come back on him," explained the Clearwater Fire Department's Richard Riley.
Brett Claerhout and other workers from Caladisi Construction had set out to work on a city storm drain maintenance project at Barry Road and Highland Avenue, but just after 8 a.m., their job turned into a full-scale emergency. The wet soil created a powerful suction around Claerhout. They couldn't just pull him out and too much digging could cause another collapse.
"We faced some serious challenges because the soil is so loose and saturated. As we continue to dig it out, more kept coming in and he kept sinking further down," said Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Daly Watts.
Rescue crews built a wall around Claerhout to keep more dirt from falling in and burying him even deeper. They used a vacuum to help clear the dirt. All the while, the heat and humidity persisted. Hours passed. The 57-year-old was still stuck.
"The patient is in good spirits. He's talking to us," said Riley. "He has no medical problems whatsoever."
Then finally, three hours in, success. They moved enough dirt and the rescue team used a harness and a ladder to free the man. Claerhout was able to climb out with help from firefighters. He was alert and amazingly not hurt.
Rescue crews say it was one of the most difficult trench rescues they've done.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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