Eight-year-old and his mother recount how he stepped into a puddle and suddenly disappeared.
Kenny Markiewicz, 8, with his mother, Amber Markiewicz shows some of the bruises he suffered Wednesday,when he was swept through six blocks of storm sewer in Duluth, Minn.,Thursday, June 21, 2012. Duluth officials say it's still not safe for evacuated residents to return to their homes in the low-lying Fond du Lac area.
DULUTH - Even a day after they found the boy alive, after he was deemed healthy and after floodwaters that had swept him away began to recede, people in the Duluth neighborhood couldn't stop shaking their heads in disbelief: the boy who went down the drain.
"I really did not think they were going to find him alive," said Joe Higgins, a father of four. He lives across the street from the spot where Kenith Markiewicz, a red-headed 8-year-old, stepped into a puddle on Wednesday afternoon and disappeared.
What happened next to Kenith shook his mother so badly that a day later she continually apologized for crying.
His first words to her after they were reunited: "I thought I had lost you."
"He was worried about me. Can you imagine?" asked Amber Markiewicz, her hands folded in her lap, Kenith sitting next to her on a couch at their relatives' house in Duluth, near the border with Proctor, Minn.
"They figured he probably went about a mile," she said.
The two of them have been visiting relatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They drove up from their home in Lake Charles, La., two weeks ago. Then on Wednesday, Kenith and his 10-year-old cousin, Emily, walked a block from her house to an intersection where a rushing creek had overwhelmed a storm drain.
Where the creek, usually little more than a trickle, meets the street, water flows into a 24-inch concrete culvert that carries it underground until it empties into a wooded area crisscrossed by streams.
By late Wednesday morning, torrential rains had turned the creek into a rushing, churning stream. Muddy rainwater swirled above the culvert's opening, which was completely submerged.
The first thing Amber heard was Emily's scream.
She ran toward the sound of her niece, who was now shouting that Kenith had fallen into a puddle.
Amber jumped in and began thrashing in the thigh-deep water. Then her shin bumped against the opening of the concrete pipe.
"I was frantic," she said.
Her screams drew more people. Calls to 911 were made. Police arrived. A postman joined the search. A municipal worker arrived with a backhoe. People were jumping into the water. In the panic of the rescue effort, one man tried to go down the culvert himself.
As a crowd gathered, Amber stepped back onto a patch of lawn nearby and prayed. She asked that she be allowed to see Kenith again. Twenty minutes, an eternity, slipped by.
Plugged nose and a prayer
Then a police officer stepped forward. Someone at a trailer park had found a boy named Kenny, he told her. He says he wants his mom.
Amber ran to the police car. It rushed to the Zenith Terrace trailer park half a mile away, passing more homes, a ball park and a wooded area.
The squad car pulled up to 30 Arbitus Drive, a mobile home, and Amber ran inside.
There sat Kenny.
"He said, "I did what you told me to do. I plugged my nose, took a breath and I prayed,'" recalled Amber.
He had cuts on his feet, face and the back of his head. At the hospital, a doctor told them it's likely he blacked out.
The pipe that had carried him underground empties into a pool of water tucked into the woods, more than 100 yards from the trailer park where he was found. A man heard him crying and found him near the stream. "I saw a red shirt, then red hair," said Gordon Marshall, who bundled Kenith in a blanket at his home before calling 911.
Kenny, clad in a pair of "Tired Little Tiger" pajamas from the hospital, said he doesn't remember much about his ride through the culvert.
Sitting on the couch with his mom, he smiled at her as she finished telling the story.
"I won't do that again!" he said.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329