Buried Alive: ‘Am I Going To Die?’

Courtesy: KELO
Courtesy: KELO

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Emily Fodness, the young woman who survived a building collapse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, earlier this month is now speaking out about her experience.

She was buried in the rubble for over three hours. Her dramatic rescue was broadcast live on KELOLAND TV as viewers held their breaths minute by minute until she was finally pulled from the rubble.
When the call first came in that a building had collapsed in downtown Sioux Falls, it was reported there were two people still trapped inside.

Fodness was one of them.

She said she was still in bed that Friday morning on the second floor with two of her dogs when disaster struck.

“I had turned over and by the time I turned over, I saw in the corner of my room, the floor just starting to cave in,” Fodness said.  “The falling, honestly, went pretty fast.  I didn’t realize I fell 15 feet at that point; I just heard everything come on top of me.”

Fodness says she was conscious the whole time, but had no idea of the magnitude of the collapse.

“I couldn’t move my legs whatsoever; they were pinned under concrete, so they were in a lot of pain the whole time. But I remember I could feel my legs. I was like, ‘OK, I can feel them. You’re not paralyzed,’ from what I could tell.  So that’s good,'” Fodness said.

Still, as she waited for rescue, her emotions and fear began to take over.

“So I’m in here thinking, ‘Does anyone know I’m under here?’  And that was frightening to me,” Fodness said.

She says she couldn’t see much.

“I probably had about this much space in front of me and that was my bedding,” Fodness said.

That bedding was Fodness’ mattress. It had fallen on top of her, which rescue workers say probably protected her from other debris.

Just as miraculous, somehow her cell phone had fallen with her, but she couldn’t find it at first.

Her parents tried calling her repeatedly, but she couldn’t answer because it was behind her.

“I was trying to figure out where it was at, I stayed still and tried to figure it out.  Because I’m thinking, ‘If there’s any way I’m going to get out of here, I need to get my phone,'” Fodness said.

Once she found her phone, she immediately called her mother back.

“‘Mom, I’m underneath this rubble.  You need to send help.’  By that time I had already heard sirens come out and by the time she had gotten there and she said, ‘My daughter is in there.’ I could hear her voice cracking, ‘My daughter’s in there,'” Fodness said.

Fodness said she stayed on the phone the entire time talking with first responders while yelling for help as they tried pinpointing her location under all the debris. She said minutes seemed like hours.

“They still couldn’t hear me and this is probably an hour and half into it and I just broke down and cried and thought, ‘Am I going to die here?'” Fodness said.

As scared as she was, Fodness says she had to stay focused and not panic.

“Just took a moment and said, ‘OK, you need to relax.  If you’re going to get out of this, you’re going to need to stay calm.  Stay composed as well as you can,'” Fodness said.  “I tried moving my bedding, but every time I did, it got close to my face, so you can’t do that otherwise you’re going to end up suffocating.”

Then a surprise appeared from out of nowhere. Her dog Nova survived the collapse and somehow instinctively found her and crawled toward her.

“Once she got up there, it was a relief. My dog was alive. ‘We are going to comfort each other,’ and that’s what we did,” Fodness said.

Two hours into the ordeal, rescue workers who had kept digging through the debris and talking with her on the cell phone finally heard her voice.

“I heard a couple of them say, ‘I can hear her.  I can hear her.’  That gave me hope.  So, ‘They’re coming; they’re coming,’ because what was three hours seemed like an eternity being under there,” Fodness said. “I remember the whole time when I was under there I had my hand out as far as my right hand could go because I’m like, ‘That’s going to be the first thing they’re going to see.'”

And they did. They saw her hand and held it.

When firefighters pulled her from the rubble, Fodness says she could hear people cheering.

Fodness injured both her legs and hips, but incredibly, never broke any bones.

She says her dramatic rescue was a bittersweet ending though because of the death of Ethan McMahon, a construction worker who died in the collapse.

Now she struggles with survivor’s guilt.

“It easily could have been me and I can have that feeling.  ‘Why me?  He’s a Marine; he just had a kid.’  I think about that kind of stuff.  I wish he and his family had a different outcome.  I know what I’m going through right now, but I can’t imagine,” Fodness said.

The Fodnesses have sent their condolences to the McMahon family and are heartbroken for their loss.

“I feel like our families will always be linked in a way but we will never know what each other is going through because we went through different battles.  And I’m here and to lose someone the way they did is awful,” Fodness said.

Fodness’ emotional and physical scars will heal, but it’s going to take time as she tries to rid herself of a label she never wanted: the lone survivor of a building collapse.

“This event, this building collapse it’s left me with some things.  I don’t want it to take away from my future.  I don’t want to put off school.  I don’t want to put off work.  I just don’t want this building collapse to define me or take anything more from me than it already has,” Fodness said.