Crews from four counties continued working throughout the night and into the morning hours Monday, trying to recover two young children who are presumed to have died Sunday afternoon when a wall of dirt at a home construction site collapsed on them in eastern Lincoln County.
Dion Burleson, public information officer of Lincoln County Emergency Management, said shortly before daybreak Monday that crews were making progress but were using caution.
Authorities say the recovery efforts also pose a danger to the crews trying to find the children in what had been an excavated hole about 20 to 25 feet deep.
One worker told reporters about 6 a.m. that crews had dug down almost 15 feet.
Meanwhile, family members of the children -- a 6-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy -- stood near the scene. A relief worker told reporters that many of those at the scene -- family members, friends and recovery workers -- were dealing with strong emotions.
The first 911 call came in at 5:07 p.m. from a man identified as Jordan Caldwell, believed to be the father of at least one of the two children. He reported that the children were playing in the hole when he saw the dirt collapse on them.
Some 65 rescue personnel responded to the scene 20 miles northwest of Charlotte.
We worked as if they were alive, said Dion Burleson, public information officer of Lincoln County Emergency Management, as helicopters circled overhead. At 9:30 p.m. he announced that the rescue had turned into a recovery operation.
Its a tragic scene, Charlotte Fire Capt. Rob Brisley said.
As darkness fell, firefighters set up powerful lights to illuminate the grim site. Neighbors clustered on Hines Circle Road at Cedarbrook Court, where the site is located, while rescue officials jockeyed large rescue trucks and equipment to get down the small, partially paved road. The site lies in an unincorporated area off Old Plank Road, a few miles west of N.C. 16.
Faced with the possibility of additional instability in the earth, a structural engineer was brought in to help direct the recovery effort, authorities said.
Times like these are very difficult, Burleson said. Its devastating for the family and each and every responder.
He said an investigation was under way. There are many questions to resolve, he said, including whether construction permits had been issued.
A neighbor said a family member building a new home at the site had been digging with a backhoe there earlier in the day. The children were in the hole later when part of it caved in.
Neighbors said that Caldwell lives on the land with his parents, who care for several children. The two children killed were believed to be cousins.
Charlotte and Huntersville fire units rushed to the scene to assist local authorities in Lincoln County in the search. The Charlotte Fire Department sent two large urban search and rescue vehicles to the scene.
During the long ordeal, rescuers used shovels as reinforcements arrived from around the region and heavy machinery was requested.
Burleson said the Lincoln County Sheriffs Office will investigate the accident.
Observer staff members Steve Lyttle and Roland Wilkerson and WCNC-TV contributed.