Rushing storm drain gives harrowing ride

Rescue: A 10-year-old trapped underground has a hurricane experience worth writing about.

September 17, 1999|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Because kids will be curious, 10-year-old Andrew Keatts and his two friends just had to explore the rapids pouring into the storm drain. That's when Andrew's wet-and-wild subterranean thrill ride began.

"I jumped down to get a better look," the Essex boy recalled. "I fell and it sucked me in."

The Hurricane Floyd-spawned torrent swept Andrew into the tunnels beneath the Queens Purchase Apartments. For close to half an hour before he was rescued by volunteer firefighters, he was caught in a watery concrete chute, traveling nearly the length of a football field in a pipe as narrow as 3 feet in diameter.

He went under. He strained to hold his head above water.

He looked for daylight, and found some -- but the tunnel suddenly narrowed, and he could only yell for help.

"I thought I was never going to get out," he said.

Fortunately, a woman in a nearby apartment building heard the commotion outside and called 911. Rescue units from the nearby Hyde Park Volunteer Fire Department rushed to the scene.

The challenge was to figure out where the boy was. Beneath the ground, the drain split into two or three branches. Rescuers yelled through storm drains and manhole covers. Andrew yelled back.

Finally, they found the boy, stooped directly beneath a manhole cover. Firefighter Thomas Lewandowski opened it and saw Andrew's outstretched arms. He pulled the boy to safety -- amazed that Andrew had not drowned.

"I really thought for sure we were going to be recovering instead of rescuing," Lewandowski said.

Andrew was taken to the emergency room at Franklin Square Hospital Center, where he was wrapped in an electric blanket to raise his body temperature. Otherwise, he was OK.

Later, sipping a hot chocolate, he had two words to describe his experience: "Very scary."

His mother, Tanya Keatts, rushed home from her job in downtown Baltimore when she heard about her son's "accident." She said Andrew would be told to stay away from the storm drain.

But his adventure offered one fringe benefit. Because the storm caused school to be closed, his fifth-grade class at Deep Creek Elementary was given a homework assignment: Write an essay about the hurricane.

"Now," said his mother, "he has something to tell."

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