MILWAUKEE — Authorities in Wisconsin said the effort to find a child and two men who went missing in a drainage ditch connected to several tunnels in Milwaukee on Monday has now turned into a recovery mission.
"This is an absolutely horrible situation," Fire Chief Aaron Lipski said on Tuesday.
Lipski added they are not sure which of three tunnels the current swept the three victims into, near 27th and Loomis on the city's south side.
Lipski said considering the current, it is very unlikely the victims made it out alive. He said their search is based on the safety of the water.
Chief Lipski said in a second press briefing on Tuesday that they did not find anyone in the first three tunnels they searched.
They have not discovered any hazards that would make the search unsafe for the divers. Now they are moving to search another three tunnels, which are 900 feet long.
Crews responded around 6:30 p.m. Monday. The water flowed fast with a strong current after Monday's severe storms.
According to police, witnesses say an 11-year-old child slipped into a drainage ditch leading into the Kinnickinnic River.
Two adult men, a 34-year-old and 37-year-old, entered the river in an attempt to rescue the child. Police say the heavy rain and water swept all three away.
“In that tunnel, we have no idea what was going on in that tunnel,” said Assistant Fire Chief DeWayne Smoots during a press briefing on Monday.
The Milwaukee Fire Department's dive rescue team, the Milwaukee Police Department's underwater dive rescue team, and other resources responded to the scene.
Due to conditions and not knowing what was happening in the tunnel, police say they did not initially put their crew in. They did, however, send a drone with a light into the tunnel.
Police said they talked to the sewage district, who said the tunnels get clogged with debris, and it is possible that the victims got stuck on debris.
According to police, they say the situation was a "child at play gone wrong."
Nur Rag, a father of five who lives nearby, said he often tells his children to stay away from the ditch.
"I tell them don’t get close to that place. You can slip in, and it’s very dangerous, especially when it’s raining," said Rag.
The storm created conditions that surprised Rag.
"I’ve never seen it that big. I’ve been here four years. I’ve never seen that water in the stream," he said.
Others at the scene and on TMJ4's live digital stream watched for hours, hoping they would be found alive.
"It's sad, it's tragic," said Rag.
Police are asking all citizens to stay clear of the area. Anyone with information is asked to contact Milwaukee police at 414-935-7360.
The storms came as high temperatures and humidity settled in over states stretching through parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.
Over 100 million people were facing a combination of heat advisories, excessive heat warnings, and excessive heat watch through Wednesday following record weekend temperatures in parts of the West and the Southwest.
Staff at TMJ4 in Milwaukee first reported this story.