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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (WCNC) — Authorities have recovered the bodies of two children who were trapped when a wall of dirt fell on them while playing in a hole at a home construction site in eastern Lincoln County, North Carolina.
Lincoln County Sherriff’s Office said the bodies of 6-year-old Chloe Jade Arwood and 7-year-old James Levi Caldwell were pulled Monday from a 24-foot-deep pit in an excavated basement under construction near their grandparents’ home.
The home is on Cedarbrook Court in the community of Lucia, between Stanley and Lake Norman.
Approximately 75 rescuers worked throughout the night to reach the young victims.
At 6 a.m., Arwood’s body was located and removed from the dirt pile in which she was buried. At 7 a.m., Caldwell’s body was also located and removed.
Aerial video from the NBC Charlotte helicopter showed a pit roughly 20-30 feet deep, with one side caved in.
Emergency management officials said one of the children’s fathers was nearby and called 911 shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday.
After nearly four hours of digging — first, by hand with shovels, then by whatever means at their disposal — rescue workers came to their grim conclusion.
“This is now a recovery operation for these two children,” said Dion Burleson, public information officer for Lincoln County Emergency Management.
Kevin and Sybil Johnson were down near the site for the first two hours of the search. Sybil Johnson tried to comfort the one of the children’s young brother and sister.
“The kids were down there playing and the walls caved in,” she said.
“They kept saying, ‘They’ve been down there too long without air’ — that’s what the kids were saying up here, and I just told them God would take care of them.”
A structural engineer helped crews evaluate the scene as they worked, and trucks pulling beds of plywood and wood beams came and dropped off their loads.
Burleson said the crews worked through the night to find the children and return them to their families.
He said the work took an emotional toll on the crews.
“There are calls at times like this happen where we are not able to make a difference because it’s outside of our realm,” said Burleson, choking up slightly.
“This is one of those cases, and it’s devastating to not only to the family, but each and every one of the responders that is out here.”
The cause of this incident is currently under investigation by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department.