x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Man buried in trench thought he would die

Uzul Shaikh, a Bangladeshi man who was trapped in a trench for five hours, speaks about his traumatic ordeal.

Abu Dhabi // A Bangladeshi man who was trapped in a trench for five hours has recounted his ordeal, including the moment he thought he would die. At 7pm on Monday, in a quiet neighbourhood of Khalidiya, Uzul Shaikh, 28, was buried up to his chest inside a five-metre trench when the hole he was digging to install new pipes caved in on him.

Mr Shaikh is now recovering in Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre from a broken shoulder. His lungs had to be drained of debris and dust. From his hospital bed, Mr Shaikh spoke about how his journey from a small town in Bangladesh almost ended in tragedy, including the moment he heard his bones crack under the weight of rubble. He said he started Monday with a breakfast of chappati and dal (unleavened Indian bread with lentil soup) then called his brother in Dubai. The conversation, he said, did not go well.

"We had a fight. He told me out of sheer anger, 'I hope you die'." At the work site in Khalidiya, Mr Shaikh spent the morning removing cable wires from under ground. Then he took his midday break, had a meal of rice and dal and napped for two hours before going back to work. His superior told him to cut some pipes, dig the hole and fit the pipes. It was supposed to be a quick job, after which he could go home early - to his labour camp on the Al Ain Truck Road.

Mr Shaikh said that as he was finishing up, his foreman screamed at him to get out of the trench. He looked up, but before he could even move he was cornered by the rubble. He scrambled to get out, but the rocks fell on his feet and he was unable to move. Soon more than half his body was buried under rubble. When he heard his bone crack under the weight, he was convinced he was going to die. After a five-hour rescue effort by 73 emergency personnel, Mr Shaikh was pulled from the trench. Although he claims to have been conscious the entire time, Mr Shaikh actually slipped in and out of consciousness, according to the authorities.

"I thought I had never done anyone harm," he said. "Allah knows. When I heard that noise, that is what I thought. I am going to die now. And that would be my last thought." At first some of his co-workers tried to help him, but then despair set in and some started crying, giving Mr Shaikh the impression that he was going to die. Resting in his hospital bed yesterday, Mr Shaikh said his friends called his brother to relay the news. "They tell me all he did on the phone was cry," he said. "Not a word from him, he just cried and cried on hearing the news." Mr Shaikh has also advised his brother through his friends not to tell their family in Bangladesh. "My parents are old. If my mother heard the news, I don't think she would survive."

In the three years that Mr Shaikh has been in the country, he has been able to pay off his debts, including the 172,000 Bangladeshi taka (Dh9,150) he borrowed to come to the UAE. Mr Shaikh is not sure if he wants to return to Bangladesh when he recovers. "It all depends on circumstance," he said. "There are different kinds of jobs to be done here. The country has been kind to me and my brothers. To go back means there is no hope."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae myoussef@thenational.ae