Rescuers 'fear worst' for worker lost in silo
MEDLEY, Fla. (WSVN) -- Rescue workers are shifting into recovery mode after the roof of a silo filled with concrete mix collapsed with a worker on top of it Friday morning.
Hours into the complicated rescue effort, by 5:21 p.m., rescue workers called the search for the unidentified employee at the Pennsuco concrete plant a search and recovery operation. They have brought in portable lights, as they expect to work late into the evening hours to find this man's body. Now Miami-Dade Police will take over the operation.
Just after 8:30 in the morning, over 50 firefighters responded to the facility after the man fell into the silo filled with raw cement powder. It took hours to assess the situation. Crews had to shut down a generator that powered the structure, which took over a half hour to completely turn off. A structural specialist had to be called in to analyze how the structure fell and which way could be the safest way for crews to get inside. He arrived on the scene not long before noon.
Multiple search teams responded with K-9s at the ready. They also had infrared and sonic equipment to assist in the search. A hazmat team was also on the scene, as the dry concrete mix inside the silo is flammable. Crews on scene had believed the safest way to get rescuers inside would be to lower them down via a helicopter but that stirred up a think cloud of powder and the helicopter had to abort.
Rescue crews had to approach their entry into the structure with caution. "It's a very sensitive situation right now," said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lieutenant Arnold Pedrahita. "We can't put firefighters on an unsafe structure."
It would not be until just after 1 p.m. when crews were lowered into the silo by a crane with heat-sensing equipment and a special camera to burrow through the rubble in order to look for signs of life. The two rescuers had to be lowered in wearing masks in a basket from the crane due to the hazardous situation.
About seven hours into the rescue effort, Pedrahita said, "They haven't been able to have any contact with the missing man or any signs of life at this time. We do fear the worst at this time."
Also complicating matters was the threat of rainy weather, which forced the suspension of the search for an hour, at around 3:35 p.m. Crews re-entered the silo, but about an hour later but had to abort again due to the weather, as the rain crept closer.
According to investigators, the man could have fallen as much 140 feet after the silo's roof somehow crumbled away under his feet that morning. The worker was supposedly trying to measure how much product was inside the silo owned by Titan America when the roof collapsed.
Pedrahita said the sound of the collapse was unmistakable to those working on the ground. "Safety crews on the ground did hear the collapse," he said. "They immediately responded to the top of the silo. They screamed out his name. They had no sign of life and no sign of communication. The immediately called 911."
Titan America released this statement regarding the incident: "The roof collapsed on one of our cement silos at our Pennsuco plant in Medley, Fla. One of our employees is missing. Miami-Dade search and rescues crews are on the scene. Our first concern is always for our employees and their families. Once the situation is stabilized, we'll conduct an exhaustive investigation to determine what happened."
Before an air rescue helicopter could first arrive to look inside the silo and determine how to get rescuers inside, crews examined footage shot overhead by 7 Skyforce HD.
This is not the first time this site has needed the attention of fire rescue crews. On April 22, 2008, a fire at that location needed 100 firefighters to put it out. No one was severely injured in that case. Also, over 10 years ago, fire crews had to dig out a worker who fell into the cement mix.
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