Toronto engineer describes being trapped in a flooded elevator with water up to his chin
Klever Freire says 'mucky, dirty water' gushed into the elevator 'as if it was coming from a fire hose'
By the time police officers rescued two men trapped in a flooded Toronto basement elevator on Tuesday, the water was already up their chins.
"I really don't know if we would have been able to make it if it was five minutes later," Klever Freire told As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway.
"The water was continuing to rise."
Heavy rain battered Toronto Tuesday evening, washing out roadways and causing heavy flooding in the downtown core.
Freire said that cleaning staff at his drone company DreamQii warned staff at around 10:30 p.m. that "a bit of water" was coming into the basement parking lot, so he and his colleague Gabriel decided to move Freire's car before the flooding got out of control.
But it was too late.
"As soon as we hit the basement level where the parking garage is, the water started gushing in," Freire said.
"Brown, mucky dirty water coming in super fast, as if it was coming from a fire hose, from the bottom of the elevator seeping in through the cracks."
Within three minutes, he said, the water was up to their waists.
Praying for their lives
Panicked, they tried to call for help on the elevator's emergency phone.
"But then it cut out because the water covered the speaker and everything shorted and we could not get any cell signal," he said.
That's when it dawned on him that they might die in that elevator, Freire said.
"Gabriel started praying. I heard that he was praying for me as well," he said.
"At that moment I started going through all things that I could have done differently to avoid that situation that day. I was supposed to go pick up my daughter to see a movie, and I had not been able to because I had to stay at work to take care of a situation that, you know, seems awfully unimportant in hindsight."
The water had slowed by this point, but was still rising, he said.
"I guess the engineer in me kicked in at that point and we decided that the only way we had a chance at getting cell signal was to basically break through a panel at the top of the elevator that was locked from the outside," he said.
They were able to crack it open, he said, by pounding it with their fists. His colleague cut open his hand and the top of the elevator was caked in his blood.
But it worked. They propped the panel open with a notebook and called 9-11 for help.
Freire told the emergency operator: "We're afraid we're going to die."
Rescued by police officers with a crowbar
When police arrived, the basement was so flooded that police officers had to swim to the pair and pry open the elevator doors with a crowbar.
"The officers responded at 10:58, so within six minutes we were there and able to rescue the two men," Toronto Police Services spokesperson Katrina Arrogante told Canadian Press.
"It's actually quite an amazing story and we're just happy everything turned out in a positive manner."
When the officers arrived, Freire said they looked thrilled to see them.
"That was the first time that I knew for sure we were going to get out of that situation, and I remember thinking of my family — and my daughter, in particular — and that I was going to be able to see her again," he said.
But he was still in a daze, he said.
"I remember taking lifeguard training, but in that moment I forgot how to swim," he said.
"So it was probably a little embarrassing. I had a police officer dragging me through the water, maybe 10 feet to the doorway."
While Gabriel suffered a minor injury to his hand, both men are now safe and doing fine.
Even now, Freire said, the reality of what happened hasn't hit him.
"It kind of feels like I'm talking about someone else's story in the third person at the moment."
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Produced by Imogen Birchard.