Worker freed after being buried for 12 hours

A construction worker was freed from a 16-foot-deep collapsed trench in Forsyth County, Georgia, on Nov. 30. The man had been buried up to his neck in dirt for almost 12 hours while rescue crews attempted to stabilize the ground in the area and keep him conscious.

The cave-in occurred while three workers were digging a drainage ditch. Dirt and water filled in a safety device in which the man was working. The two other construction workers were able to escape safely and call for help. Although emergency officials were on the scene shortly after the collapse, crews couldn’t get to the worker until almost six hours later because they had to take extra precautions to stabilize the ground nearby.

Emergency officials on site were surprised the man didn’t suffocate in the accident. According to a Forsyth County Fire Department official, the muddy clay that fell on him created a trapped pocket of air that allowed him to breath. While crews dug the man out by hand, emergency workers gave him oxygen and pumped warm air on him. The man’s face was against a mud wall and one leg was tucked behind him.

Forsyth County sheriff’s Deputy Epifanio Rodriguez III told the Atlanta Journal Constitution he spent most of Monday night interpreting for the Spanish-speaking worker, who he knew only as Tio, a nickname meaning “uncle.” The worker’s name was not released.

The worker was conscious and talking after he was set free. He complained that his hip and stomach hurt, and was airlifted to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga, Tenn. Although the man seemed to be in relatively good health after the accident, officials worried he could have internal injuries to his vital organs caused by the pressure of the dirt on his body.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun an investigation of the accident. Gainsville, Fla.-based J.B. Stevens Construction was the contractor in charge of the construction project.