Rita Thiel says the neighborhood kids in their close-knit community often play in the construction site adjacent to her street, and Tuesday night’s flooding did nothing to slow their activities.
“It just flooded our whole road,” Rita remembers, “and the kids were swimming in it and playing with their bikes and having a really good time.”
That fun quickly gave way to horror, as one of the children, an 11-year-old boy, is swept away by the current of the flood waters, into a storm drain.
“[I heard] there was an accident on Dusty Drive, and I go, ‘Oh my gosh, the kids, please please don’t let it be them,” Rita said.
Rita’s fears are confirmed, as fire and dive crews arrive on scene and begin a desperate hunt for the missing boy.
“The suction was too strong for us to even put anyone near the pipe,” Harrison Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Wesley Pompa said.
The search team spreads out across the area, sweeping drainage ditches, but it’s not until the flood waters begin to subside that Deputy Chief Pompa notices something in the middle of the dirt road.
“I looked down, and I seen the boy’s finger come up through the hole [in a manhole cover],” he said. “We instantly dropped down to our knees to start prying the cover open.”
Even though the street had been covered in an estimated six inches of water, an air pocket about two feet deep was able to form under the manhole cover. The boy survived by clinging to a rung just below the surface for about 40 minutes.
“We could here him yelling, which was an awesome sign,” Deputy Chief Pompa said. “We reached down and grabbed him and pulled him up.”
The boy was taken by ambulance to an area hospital with his parents, who were on scene for the rescue. First responders say he was talking and seemed to be in high spirits as he was saved from the life-threatening predicament.
Community members like Rita are happy to have their boy back.
“I’m just so glad he’s okay,” she said. “I want to go and give him a hug.”