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2 injured workers rescued from inside 160-foot-tall water tower

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Workers rescued from water tower
  • The men were performing maintenance inside the tower when scaffolding gave way
  • The nearly five-hour rescue operation was hampered by toxic fumes in the tower
  • One man suffered an apparent spinal injury; the other has a broken hip

Miami, Florida (CNN) -- Authorities in Hollywood, Florida, performed a dizzying rescue Friday after two utility workers conducting maintenance on an empty water tower became trapped inside when their scaffolding gave way -- plunging them 30 feet to the bottom of the structure's bowl.

Fire rescue workers from multiple agencies in the area responded to the incident and worked for nearly five hours to safely lower the severely injured men 160 feet to the ground and transport them to Memorial Regional Hospital.

The men, who were performing routine maintenance on the 52-year-old tower, had just finished sandblasting a section of the interior and were preparing to apply a coating when one side of their scaffolding collapsed, according to Raelin Storey, spokeswoman for the city of Hollywood.

One of the men was able to call his supervisor after the collapse, who then called 911 about 11 a.m., she said.

One of the workers -- identified as a 22-year-old Latino man -- suffered an apparent spinal injury in the fall and had no sensation in his lower extremities when rescuers lowered him from the tower, Storey said. The man was initially unconscious, but regained consciousness over the course of the rescue effort.

The other man -- identified as a 33-year-old Tongan -- broke his right hip and could possibly have sustained other injuries, Storey said.

She said the two men were contractors with Utility Services Corp. Authorities declined to identify the men further.

In addition to the challenge of working 160 feet above ground, rescuers were hampered by other complications -- chemical fumes from the materials the men were working with, little light inside the bowl and an echo that prohibited them from communicating verbally with the men.

Instead, the men would shake cables lowered by the rescuers to communicate, said Lt. Brian White of Hollywood Fire Rescue.

White was among one of the first rescuers to reach the top of the tower and make contact with the men.

"The call had come in (that) a city worker had fallen inside the water tower, which is our worst nightmare," White said.

But Storey praised the rescue efforts.

"I think we were all holding our breath" as they watched the two patients being lowered to the ground, Storey said, calling the training rescuers must go through to prepare for such a situation "impressive."

"Today that training paid off with successfully getting those patients out of the tower and into the hospital," she said.

CNN's Kimberly Segal contributed to this report.