St. Paul fire crews recover the bodies of two workers who died in a ‘dirt avalanche’ in a trench

St. Paul fire crews worked until Saturday morning to dig up the bodies of two workers who died at a construction site in Highland Park after a trench collapsed on top of them, in what authorities described as a tragic accident.

Search teams recovered the second body at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, about 12 hours after loose earth surrounding the trench created an “avalanche of dirt” that likely killed the two construction workers immediately, the chief said. St. Paul Fire Department Deputy Roy Mokosso. The body was found 9 feet underground.

The other body, which was recovered Friday evening, was partially protruding from the ground. But the person’s injuries were “incompatible with life” when firefighters arrived, Mokosso said.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office had not identified the victims as of Saturday afternoon. Mokosso said police informed the families of the victims on Friday evening.

Firefighters from St. Paul’s Rescue 3 Platform were still at the scene Saturday afternoon on Mount Curve Boulevard near Pinehurst Avenue. Someone had left a bouquet of flowers in front of the trench, which was open with rescue equipment.

Mokosso said three contractors from a private construction company were working on what appeared to be a water or sewer project when the accident happened. The trench is adjacent to a building under construction.

A trench box – a device designed to prevent cave-ins – was next to the site, and Mokosso confirmed workers were not using it when the trench collapsed.

A third construction worker at the site “quickly tried to get in and help the individuals out, but realized fairly quickly there was not much they could do”, he said. declared. This worker called 911 at 3:40 p.m.

Firefighters arrived quickly, but the rescue operation quickly turned into a body recovery mission. No rescuers were injured during the operation.

It’s unclear what triggered the collapse, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website warns that “workers should never enter a trench that does not have a protective system in place.”

The CDC recorded 373 deaths in the trenches from 2003 to 2017, more than 80% of which occurred in the construction industry. Dirt is deceptively heavy — a square meter can weigh as much as a compact car — which is why the CDC says most cave-ins are unsurvivable.

“It’s like drowning, but worse because of the weight,” Mokosso said.

To recover the bodies, fire crews in St. Paul and Minneapolis used a high-speed “air knife” device and a vacuum truck to break through the thick dirt without damaging the bodies, Mokosso said.

“Operations in the trenches are very dangerous,” he said. Rescue teams therefore had to reinforce the hole as they opened it. It took about six hours to recover the first body.

“If they’re 6 feet deep, you can’t just jump in there,” Mokosso said. “It’s a slow and laborious process.”

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