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Oakland fire crews work to free man trapped in trench

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Fire crews in Oakland worked for hours to free a man trapped in a trench that collapsed on him while he was working to fix a sewer. (KGO-TV)

Fire crews in Oakland have spent over 10 hours trying to rescue a man trapped in a collapsed trench in East Oakland.

Tuesday afternoon, an independent contractor was trying to replace and attach a sewer service line from a home to a main sewage pipe under the street when the trench collapsed on him. It happened around 12:30 p.m. on E. 23rd Street and 21st Avenue and the work was being done for the homeowner.

The worker, who works for Star Rooter and Plumbing, had to go down 13 feet underground to work on the line. What was a 4x3-foot hole closed up to about a 2x3-foot space.

According to a fire official, there was not sufficient cribbing -- plywood around the hole -- so dirt started caving in, burying him up to his chest. After hours of the rescue underway, the level of dirt trapping the man is now down to his knees.

A friend identified the worker as 41-year-old Rogelio Esparza, who lives in Hayward. Esparza told his friend that he was buried alive.

Heavy rescue teams are trying to shore up the trench so they can safely remove him. Fire crews said this would be a long process.

Esparza has a harness on and is hooked up to an IV. Medical crews are keeping an eye on his vital signs as temperatures fall overnight, which could hamper his condition.

They are concerned about his circulation due to all of the pressure that is squeezing his lower extremities.

The soil has consistency of sand, which is making it very difficult to hold it back. That is why they are using a street cleaner to vacuum the dirt out of the trench while they dig. Esparza's foot is also trapped in a squishy clay, creating a suction force that is holding him down. That is a complication that has caused this rescue to drag on for so long.

Rain moved into the Bay Area overnight so sand bags were brought in around 11 p.m. to try to keep any rainwater from flowing into the trench.

Stay with abc7news.com for updates on this developing story and tune into ABC7 Morning News between 4:30 a.m. - 7 a.m. for live updates.
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