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Weather hinders effort to find worker who fell into cement silo

As the wind and rain from tropical storm Isaac swept over South Florida, recovery workers continued the tedious search for the body of a worker who fell into a cement silo when the roof he was standing on collapsed.

Pierre Mezidor was measuring the level of the dry cement powder from the roof of the silo when it gave way underneath him at about 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 17. The 58-year-old worker, originally from Haiti, had been working at the Tarmac Cement plant, which is owned by Titan America, for 19 years.

It’s been 10 days of a technically challenging — and emotionally distressing — operation to pull the roof remnants out of the 200-ft. tall silo and look for the body of the missing worker. The process has been complicated by the stormy weather conditions that continue to dump rain into the now open silo that was 70 percent full of cement powder. Without a roof protecting the material, the rainwater mixes with the gray dust in a way that doesn’t exactly create hardened concrete, but certainly makes it more difficult to dig through the debris, said Kate McClain, spokesperson for Titan America.

The wind, more than the rain, has caused the most serious delays for an operation that relies heavily on enormous cranes to reach over the top of the silo. The cranes stand as tall as the silo itself, and have been on site since the day of the accident to lower rescue workers into the cylindrical structure, without endangering additional lives.

The initial rescue operation led by Miami Dade Fire Rescue involved over 50 firefighters, the search and rescue team, the hazardous materials team, and a special "collapse truck" specially outfitted for this kind of rescue. As the hot dusty day turned into a rainy afternoon, the rescue workers quietly gave up hope of finding Mezidor alive, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration joined the investigation. MSHA is still working to hoist out the corrugated metal channel, plates, pipe, and 20-ft. long pieces of handrail that fell into the silo, hoping to find Mezidor’s body in the wreckage.

McClain said that the recovery effort is now being led by “outside experts” that have been contracted by Titan America.

Other incidents brought rescue workers to this plant in recent years, but this is the first death. Three of the previous accidents since 1992 resulted in “permanent or partial disability,” according to MSHA records.

The cement plant, located just off Okeechobee Road in Medley did not ship any bulk loads of cement powder last week, although trucks did pick up some shipments of bagged cement powder for local distribution.

Edward Blumberg, the attorney representing Mezidor’s family, filed an action to have structural engineers inspect the scene to establish how the roof collapsed in what he called “a horribly gruesome event.” He expects to file a civil suit, both to demonstrate that Dade county “will not tolerate unsafe conditions for honest working folks,” and to provide compensation for the family that has lost a husband and father who was also the main breadwinner.

Titan America said in a statement that company officials “deeply regret the incident and emphasize that employee safety is their primary concern.” Grief counseling is available at the plant for workers who are mourning the loss of a colleague.

“This type of death in and of itself is unspeakable,” Blumberg said, “and the family still does not have the closure of having a body.”

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