Two men rescued from rapidly rising waters in an elevator that flooded during an intense rainstorm in Toronto said focusing on family and faith kept them going as they grappled with the fact that they could be moments away from death.
Klever Freire and Gabriel Otrin were pulled to safety late Tuesday after water from a flash flood poured into an elevator in the basement of the office building where they both work.
Freire said the half hour during which they were trapped felt much longer, adding water had reached their necks by the time police officers reached the scene and pried open the doors.
“I was mainly thinking about my daughter,” Freire said Wednesday, hours after the ordeal. “I was supposed to go pick her up two hours earlier to go for a movie, but I wasn’t able to … (the experience) was a little bit eye-opening in terms of what matters.”
Both men said steadily rising water in the elevator destroyed the electronics on board in just over five minutes, leaving it without functioning buttons or emergency phones.
In a bid to get a signal on his cellphone, Otrin said he started using his fists to punch out a ceiling panel. He said he ultimately took to pushing it up with his head since he found that more effective.
Eventually the two men were able to break the panel open and call 911 while the water kept steadily rising.
Police arriving on the scene were forced to tread water outside the elevator as they tried to force the doors open. Freire and Otrin said officers struggled to find a tool that could fit into the unusually small gap between the doors on their particular elevator.
Otrin, who said his faith in God left him confident of his ultimate survival, was still struck by the even more chaotic scene that greeted him once police got the doors apart.
“The water outside the elevator was actually slightly higher than what was in the elevator, ” he said. “We had about five minutes left until it would have reached the ceiling.”
Freire and Otrin’s experience was among the most dramatic in a rash of rescue efforts prompted by the storm.
The downpour dumped up to 72 millimetres on some central regions in roughly a two-hour period.
The deluge put unusual strain on police and firefighters, who spent the night extricating people from flooded areas.
Capt. Michael Westwood of Toronto Fire Services said firefighters responded to 638 calls on Tuesday, about 98 per cent more than usual. From midnight to 8 a.m. Wednesday, call volumes soared to 137 per cent above average.
“(There were) people trapped in cars because they tried to drive through deep water,” he said. “Water was, a lot of times, more than a metre high on roadways.”
The downpour also resulted in flooding in the Toronto subway system.
It also caused problems at Toronto City Hall. A staffer tweeted that the roof outside Mayor John Tory’s office was leaking so badly that staff ran out of recycling bins and garbage cans to contain the water.
Source: Michelle McQuigge/Canadian Press
Photo: © Provided by thecanadianpress.com