EVERETT — Dozens of firefighters responded Thursday morning to an I-5 off-ramp in Everett after a report that a person might be stuck in a collapsed tunnel that had been dug as an apparent shelter.
After hours of digging and searching, authorities found nobody inside the roughly 45-foot-long tunnel.
“Life safety is our priority and we’re thankful that there’s nobody injured,” Everett Fire Department spokesperson Rachael Doniger said.
State Department of Transportation crews had been street-cleaning at the off-ramp Wednesday night when they saw a man pop out of some bushes and run off, DOT spokesperson Jordan Longacre said. Crews discovered an uncovered, horizontal tunnel near the I-5 underpass at Pacific Avenue and Walnut Street.
They believed the man had emerged from the hole.
When a crew returned in the morning, workers found the hole covered, Longacre said.
The crew saw movement in the rocks Thursday, and authorities believed “someone might be in there,” Washington State Patrol trooper Rocky Oliphant said. At first, authorities estimated the tunnel was about 3 feet wide and 8 feet deep, but once excavators dug into the ground, the search team found it extended much farther.
The Everett Fire Department initially reported the tunnel “may have collapsed.” Authorities later realized the tunnel was intact but covered, Doniger said. Crews removed the dirt from the top of the tunnel’s apparent entrance.
Everett police had a history of contacting somebody about digging in the same spot in the past, Doniger said. But it was not clear who created this tunnel.
A massive technical rescue response continued into Thursday afternoon, with crews digging with heavy machinery to see if anyone was trapped. Excavators were on standby in case a person was found. Around noon, crews pulled at least two backpacks and other personal belongings out of the hole. Nobody was found, however.
Searchers reached the end of the hole around 2:30 p.m., then called off the search.
An estimated 29 fire rigs responded to the scene, as well as Everett police and the Washington State Patrol.
Meanwhile, the northbound I-5 off-ramp to Pacific Avenue was shut down, Oliphant said. The road was to reopen around 3 p.m. after a crew refilled the tunnel with dirt.
Monica Clow, 26, was opening the Keller Supply Kitchen and Bath Showcase store on Pacific Avenue when she heard police sirens blaring across the street. She stepped outside on the balcony of the store and watched a stream of fire trucks and utility vehicles arrive at the tunnel site.
The location of the rescue is a known homeless encampment area, Clow said, and it’s not unusual to see people sleeping there. She said it’s the first time she has heard of somebody digging at the spot.
State road crews were concerned the tunnel might continue under the road and affect its integrity, but as of Thursday, Doniger said, it did not appear that the road itself would need extensive repairs.
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