One body found in search for missing Minnesota sewer workers

Sunday, July 29, 2007
Family and friends watched from the bank of the Mississippi River Friday as rescue workers search in St. Paul, Minn., for two sewer workers who were feared dead after getting caught Thursday by a surge of water in the city's underground sewer system. The body of one of the workers was recovered Friday evening. (Ann Heisenfelt ~ Associated Press)

The two men were caught deep below the streets of St. Paul during a heavy rain.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Recovery crews found the body of a missing sewer worker in the Mississippi River a day after he and another man were caught deep below the city's streets during a heavy rain.

The body of Dave Yasis, 23, of Maplewood was found at about 6 p.m. Friday about 15 feet from where a sewer line drains into the river, Ramsey County Sheriff's Cmdr. Joe Paget said.

The search for the man Yasis was working with, 34-year-old Joe Harlow of Plainview, resumed early Saturday.

Family and friends gathered near the river Friday morning as boats moved back and forth in an effort to locate the men. Dennis Yasis, 25, was hopeful his brother would be found alive.

"He's there somewhere," Dennis Yasis said. "I'm trying to stay strong."

That hopefulness vanished when his brother's body was found floating about 14 feet below the surface at a spot where crews had narrowed their search. Crews also searched the sewers, which have tunnels ranging from 7 1/2 feet to 12 feet in diameter.

Eight people were working as contractors on the city's $4 million sewer restoration project Thursday. They were about 150 feet below ground when they were told to evacuate ahead of a thunderstorm. Six workers made it out safely.

Robert Kasper, the business agent for the Laborers Union Local 132, which represents the missing men, said union members were grieving.

"It's sad," he said. "I mean, they could be anywhere."

Kasper said Hugo-based contracting company Lametti and Sons Inc. had a good reputation for safety. "It was a fluke thing," he said.

The union was offering counseling to family members. The police chaplain also was at the riverbank to help, and some people showed up with hot dogs, chips and drinks as mourners set up camp along the bank.

Marion and Donald Beckman of Blaine were also at the river early Friday. They said Harlow, the other missing man, was Marion's nephew. He was married with four children.

"We're all praying for him," Donald Beckman said.

Arnold Kraft, a spokesman for Lametti and Sons, said the workers were told to get out of the sewers shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday as a line of thunderstorms approached.

Two men were lifted out in a bucket by a crane. The rest moved to another exit point with a staircase. With the water waist-high, the men climbed the stairs. When they reached the surface, they realized two men were missing, Kraft said.

Kraft said they immediately went back into the tunnel, where the water rapidly receded, and searched all the way to where the sewer enters the Mississippi River but were not able to find the missing men.

The fire department was notified at 7:17 p.m. and firefighters searched into the night.

According to the National Weather Service, about 0.44 inches of rain fell in St. Paul in about 30 minutes.

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