CAMDEN COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) - Tuesday OSHA investigators will work to determine how five workers became trapped in a grain Silo in Camden County Monday afternoon.
Five workers were trapped around noon at George Wood Farm located at 113 Highway 343 South in Camden County, according to Sheriff Tony Perry. The silo contained 30,000 bushels of grain, but has the capacity to hold 125,000 bushels.
"Our frustration sets in of 'can we just grab them and pull them out' but we can't because of the weight and the pressure of the corn around them," explained Deputy Chief Barry Overman of the Elizabeth City Fire Department.
Overman says it was a slow and dangerous rescue.
"There's just so much corn in the bin that you've got to strategically move each section at a time or the pressure of the corn would come in and encapsulate them and then you can't do anything."
Rescuers walked on screens and plywood so they wouldn't become trapped themselves. Then, they dropped tubes around the victims, to protect them from the pressure.
"Once they get the tubes in place it's a matter of relieving the height of the corn on both sides," Overman explained.
Camden and Pasquotank County Emergency Management Coordinator Christy Saunders said the county received the tubes last year, as a donation from Kansas-based Lansing Trade Group.
"Thankfully they had them to be able to help to do the rescue. They were invaluable to us. I don't think they would have been able to have done the rescue without them," Saunders said.
She said the odds of surviving an accident like that are slim.
"When corn gets, or any type of grain gets up around your chest, you suffocate most of the time and that's what happens lots of times. It's kind of like a boa constrictor. You know how they suffocate you. And that's what happens. You suffocate from the pressure on your torso and your chest. And so, it's a miracle and it's a great miracle," Saunders said.
Crews used vacuums and cut holes into the corn and the bottom of the silo.
"Just like poking a hole in bottle and letting the water run out," said Overman. "And as it started running out then it starts relieving the pressure."
The ordeal lasted nearly five hours.
"They did really well, they talked to us the whole time," Overman said. "We gave them oxygen when they needed it, we gave them water."
Jollifer Harris' friend was among those trapped. He says this isn't the first time there's been an accident in a silo.
"There's got to be another way that they got to do this work. Since they fallen in," Harris said.
Overman says initially three were trapped -- but two more went in to brush corn away from their mouths so they could breath. He says he can't believe how calm they stayed thru the ordeal.
"Claustrophobia would drive somebody crazy, but they never screamed, they never yelled," Overman said.
Fifty rescuers fought for five hours to keep the pressure of 30,000 bushels of grain from suffocating the victims.
“You don’t usually see guys survive that," said Deputy Chief Barry Overman. "When you walk in and see that amount of corn and see three men buried up and another man removing corn away from their mouth so they can breathe ... that’s not a good ending. So, for all five of them to be rescued and for them to be ok, that’s amazing."
As of about 3 p.m., two workers had been rescued from the grain bin and were taken to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City in good condition. The other three were rescued around 4:45 p.m. and were also transported. One was taken to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital by nightingale due to chest pains.
The workers were identified by the company as follows:
- James Frederick, treated and released at Albemarle Hospital
- Isiah King, treated and released at Albemarle Hospital
- Curtis Lee, treated and released at Albemarle Hospital
- Robert Eason, treated and released at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
- Derek Walston, treated and held for observation at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
The farm's owner, Matt Wood, would not give a comment to WAVY.com about the incident. An employee at the site told a crew from 10 On Your Side to leave Tuesday.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA) website, George Wood Farms, Inc. was cited for a safety violation in 2010. The report from the inspection lists "hazard communication" as the violation, which involves maintaining a workplace hazard communication program that involves, in part, employee information and training.
Another OSHA report online said there was a deadly accident at the same address in 1994 and cited a company named F.P. Wood & Son.
Sources tell WAVY.com OSHA will be investigating the incident.
The sheriff's office said deputies worked traffic detail and the Camden County Fire Department handled the silo rescue. Seven other agencies assisted the rescue, including the Elizabeth City Fire Department, South Mills Fire and Crawford Fire Department also assisted.
Stay with WAVY.com for more information as it becomes available.
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