A construction worker is free after being trapped waist-deep in mud at the bottom of a drainage ditch for more than three hours Tuesday morning.
The 57-year-old worker, who is not being identified, was pulled to safety using a harness, shovels and a ladder with the help of 35 rescue personnel operating in shifts.
The construction worker is alert and "doing OK," according to Elizabeth Watts, Clearwater public safety spokeswoman. He was taken to the hospital for evaluation, Watts said.
Rescue personnel worked to free the man, who was reportedly buried up to his waist at times in mud six feet below ground level. City sewer vacuum trucks were also used to suck up the muck to help free the man.
Extracting a victim is "one of the most complicated things you must do," said Fire Chief Robert Weiss while at the scene.
Weiss said rescue workers tried using airbags to also help shore up the north side wall of the ditch as it kept caving in as crews worked to pull the man to safety.
Because he was below ground level where it is possible to lose air, the victim was put on oxygen and an I.V. as a precaution as rescuers built a box around him, similar to a shoring up process, in order to prevent more dirt from falling into the hole and burying him deeper, Watts said.
Crews from Caladesi Construction Company, of Largo, were working on a storm drain maintenance project for the city when the worker became trapped in waist-high mud at 8:23 a.m. near Jeffords Street and South Highland Avenue.
The $900,000 maintence project to upgrade the storm sewer in the area from 54-inch metal piping to a 60-inch concrete type started in April and is expected to be complete in about six weeks, according to Tara Kivett, project manager for the city.
Kivett said the trench box, which surrounds the pipes where crews were working, functioned as it should. The worker was checking the well-point system around the perimeter of the hole when he fell in, she said.
"We haven't had an accident on a City of Clearwater project in a long time," Kivett said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate the incident, according to Watts.
[Last update: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 1:35 p.m.]