Divers search for Iowa teen swept away in drain

Associated Press |

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Rescue crews peered beneath manhole covers, used sonar in a lake and kept divers on standby in the search for a teenager who was swept away in a Cedar Rapids storm drain after heavy rainfall overwhelmed the eastern Iowa city's sewer system.

Logan Blake, 17, was swept away by the fast-moving water in the drain at an elementary school around 7:20 p.m. Monday, said city public safety communications coordinator Greg Buelow. He said it's not clear how Blake ended up in the drain, but he may have fallen in if floodwater obscured the ditch.

Buelow and Cedar Rapids Fire Department Battalion Chief Brian Gibson said Tuesday they still considered the operation a rescue mission.

The storm sewer drains into Cedar Lake, and fire department crews were using sonar and boats to search the body of water as a dive team waited in the wings. Police officers and about 60 volunteers searched along the path of the pipe by foot.

Buelow said the storm drain feeds into an underground concrete pipe about 4 1/2 feet wide at the school's culvert entrance. That pipe runs about a mile and a half southwest and is 10 feet in diameter where it empties into Cedar Lake.

Rescuers have so far been largely unable to enter the underground sewer system because of the dangerously fast current. But on Tuesday one crew member went underground with a special camera to search for Blake in the network of pipes, Buelow said.

"Everyone is trying to remain optimistic that it is a rescue mission," he said.

Blake's father, Mark Blake, told ABC News that the family was holding out hope that he would be found alive.

"He's a strong kid, a very athletic kid," he said. "He's got a strong will. We have every faith in the world that he's hooked on and waiting for the current to slow down."

David Bliss, 17, tried to save Blake but was also dragged into the drain. That teen traveled along the drain for more than a mile, eventually emerging in Cedar Lake. The boy walked to a hospital and was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Recent heavy rainfall has overwhelmed the storm sewer system in many parts of Cedar Rapids, causing water to rise in the streets and rush through neighborhoods. The sanitary sewer system also became overwhelmed and overflowed.

Doug Hills, 38, who lives near the drain, said he always questioned why the storm system was not covered in the two-block area behind the school, when it is underground elsewhere.

He said the incident was at once "shocking" and inevitable. He said he warned his own boys — ages 12 and 5 — to never play near the drain.

Jeff Bock, 44, joined the search around the lake for Logan on Wednesday morning with some friends. He later went to see the storm drain where Logan was swept away.

"The mood is still hopeful, but the parents are there and you can see the anguish on some of their faces," he said. "I hope they find him. Some good news would be the best thing."

A band of strong storms washed across the Midwest on Monday evening. Police said a man in northern Indiana was killed when a tree fell onto a trailer home and another died when strong winds caused a building to collapse in eastern Iowa. The raging storms left hundreds of thousands of people without power across Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

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