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Firefighters still working to recover body of man buried in swimming pool collapse in Orange

Crews in Orange continued working Sunday to recover the body of a man who died after he was buried in a soil collapse in the backyard of a home where he and other workers were digging out a swimming pool.

Firefighters called a commercial construction company to bring in a massive crane to help them haul out thousands of pounds of dirt from the backyard in the 6200 block of Cliffway Drive.

Early Sunday morning, the crane towered over the line of homes snaking along a hillside north of Chapman Avenue.

Dangling at the bottom of its line was a 3,000 pound rectangular steel drum, which would be lifted into the backyard and placed over the spot where the man’s body was still buried. That would be followed by an identical drum placed adjacent to the first — workers would then use the drums to scoop out the dirt and recover the body.

The huge crane itself blocked off most of the street, which was also packed with police and fire vehicles.

The operation to place the drums at the site took most of the day, and had not stopped by the afternoon; it wasn’t clear whether the crews would continue working into the night, or would break to come back the next morning.

Capt. Ryan O’Connor of the Orange Fire Department said once the drums were in place, crews had to go in and clear much of the dirt.

“This is a slow operation,” he said. “There’s limited workspace in the backyard. They’re literally going in there by hand and digging.”

The man was buried midmorning on Saturday. O’Connor said firefighters got the call of a man down at the home at just before 11 a.m.

When they arrived, the other workers at the site were desperately trying to dig out the man, who was buried up to his neck. He was able to talk, and complained of having difficulty breathing.

Worried about the unstable soil, the firefighters ushered out the workers, then started digging themselves. About a half hour later, a second collapse buried the man completely.

After hours without any communication from the man, the fire crews switched from a rescue operation to body recovery.

Officials have still not identified the man. The digging teams have to finish their work first for the coroner’s office and safety officials to begin their investigations.

Workers with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the site Saturday, but it’s unclear yet if their investigation has begun.

O’Connor said the fire department had trauma counselors on hand to talk to the man’s coworkers and his boss who came to the site. The homeowners, who apparently were home throughout the incident, also were visited by the counseling team.

Firefighters train for trench collapses, and have specialized equipment to rescue trapped people; the crew that responded Saturday had lengths of wood designed to help them shore up the collapsed earth. But O’Connor said the collapse on Saturday showed how quick and lethal they can be.

“(The victim) had seconds, maybe minutes,” he said. “He had trouble breathing — he had 150 pounds of pressure on his chest.”

Source: Orange County Register

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