Lying at the bottom of a manhole, deep in the bowels of Houston, Texas’s sewer system, Jason Courtney curled up in the fetal position — worrying for days on end that he was going to drown as sewer waters rose around him, he told KTRK.
At points, 40-year-old Courtney says waters reached all the way up to his neck, according to the Free Press Houston. There was complete darkness all around him.
“The water was coming down pretty damn fast and hard,” Courtney told Free Press Houston. “I could hear it before I could see it. It sounded like a raging bull.”
Houston firefighters rescued Courtney early Monday morning from the sewer after construction workers doing roadwork nearby heard him screaming for help at 3 a.m., the Houston Chronicle reports. Courtney told KTRK that he was underground for nine days, though first responders said earlier this week that he was trapped for several days.
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As McClatchy reported Monday, there was an uncovered manhole surrounded by tall grass. Courtney told Free Press Houston that he was taking a shortcut through a field on his way home from work when he fell in. Flooding from Hurricane Harvey likely caused the manhole to come loose, Houston public works officials told KPRC
Now, as Courtney is recovering from a leg injury and surgery at a Texas Medical Center, he, his family and his partner have spoken out about the unthinkable ordeal that he endured.
“I did not want to die lying in a bunch of sewage water,” Courtney told KTSA.
And he didn’t — but to survive, he says, he went to extreme measures.
Courtney had to drink the sewage water that was flowing around him, and he ate ants and crickets from the sewer’s walls. He even skinned snakes to eat, according to Free Press Houston.
“He thought he was going to die. He just knew — he thought, ‘This is my place to die,’ ” John Tillis, Courtney’s partner, told KTRK.
Tillis said that he knew there was trouble when he didn’t hear from Courney in days, according to KTRK.
Courtney’s parents told KTSA that they had been looking for him for days as well when their son was finally found.
“He’s alive, thank God,” Courtney’s mother, Tammy Stambaugh, told KTSA, adding that her son emerged from the manhole dangerously thin. “Your children never stop being your babies.”
Courtney, for his part, was in good spirits when he was rescued on Monday.
“He was in good mental health for the amount of time he said he was down there,” firefighter Jason Abeldano, who went down into the manhole, told KTRK at the time. “He was laughing and joking.”
But now he wants to make sure no one goes through what he did.
”I very seriously strongly believe they need to start putting some ladders or something down the manholes,” Courtney told KTSA.