Emergency workers rescued a man who was trapped in a trench for two hours Friday when it collapsed and nearly buried him alive as he tried to repair a water leak at a New City house.
The unidentified worker was pulled from the six-foot-deep death trap around 3:30 p.m. after Rockland rescue workers cleared away dirt and maneuvered him past boulders that pressed against his chest, nearly suffocating him, emergency personnel at the scene said.
Donald Arterburn, the chief of the Rockland Regional Technical Rescue team, said the worker put his own life in jeopardy by working so deep in an unstable trench.
"Anytime you go below four-and-a-half feet, you risk being buried like this because there is so much weight," Arterburn said. "You figure a cubic foot of dirt weighs 150 pounds, and his feet were well below surface so there was a lot of dirt and a lot of weight pinning him to the foundation of the house."
"Extremely dangerous," Arterburn added. "Something he shouldn't have been doing."
The man was conscious and breathing when he emerged from the ditch and was trying to speak to rescue workers in his native Spanish. He was transported by helicopter to Westchester Medical Center.
Emergency workers from several nearby towns streamed to the house on Germonds Lane around 1:30 p.m. after a co-worker had tried in vain to free the man.
"He was pulling the dirt with his hands when his foot got stuck and the dirt kept coming in on him," said co-worker Enrique Vargas, 48, of the Bronx. "It was up to his hip but it kept coming in."
"He was telling me that his ankle was stuck," Vargas added. "He was yelling 'Help! Help!' I tried to get him out but he wasn't moving. He was really stuck. There was a lot of dirt."
Unable to free his friend, Vargas summoned the home's owner, Madeline Delgrosso, who contacted the police.
Delgrosso said she hired the men to fix a leak that cropped up after Hurricane Irene.
"I was in the house and I heard the groaning so I came out and it looked like he was stuck," said Delgrosso, 50. "They dug the ditch and he was down in it and the dirt came in on him."
Orange & Rockland Utilities workers shut down gas lines leading into the house as a precaution.
Industrial vacuuming equipment was brought in to suck the dirt out of the trench. Rescue workers then used pulleys hanging from a tripod to haul the trapped man out of the trench.
Mounds of soil were scattered on the side of the cream-colored house where the accident occurred. The two contractors had been working for five hours when the trench caved in, police said..
Arterburn said the condition of the dirt made the rescue efforts slow-going.
"The time of the year and the condition of the dirt that was packed on the victim was wet, clay-type dirt, which makes it real heavy," Arterburn said. "There was a lot of decorative stone and large boulders in the trench with him. One of them was pressing against his chest when we got there. That was our first obstacle to move. After that, it was just digging down to get to his feet. His legs were bent, so we had to uncover a good portion of them to pull him out."
"It was a good operation by everyone who was involved in it and a successful rescue," said Nanuet Fire Dept. Commissioner Harold Straut.