19 manatees rescued from drainage pipe in Florida

SeaWorld, wildlife workers pull sea cows to safety

By Justin Warmoth - Anchor

SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. - Workers spent nearly 10 hours rescuing 19 manatees that were stuck in a storm drain in Brevard County.

[PICS: Manatees rescued from drainage pipe | RAW: Manatees rescued | VIDEO: Officials work to remove manatees one by one]

The rescue began Monday afternoon near Cassia Boulevard in Satellite Beach and wrapped up around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Satellite Beach Fire Dept. Capt. Jay Dragon said all 19 manatees survived and were returned to the Indian River Lagoon system.

Rescuers used heavy earth-moving equipment to save the manatees, which were stuck in the 150-foot-long pipe in a Satellite Beach neighborhood near Surfside Elementary School.

Crowds gathered as the rescue took place, watching teams from SeaWorld and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, along with police and firefighters, save the marine mammals.

[RELATED: SeaWorld helps in manatee rescue]

"It was very arduous. You're looking at the amount of manpower it took just to move each manatee. There were probably 40 rescuers here," Satellite Beach Fire Dept. Chief Don Hughes said.

City workers discovered the manatees in the pipe after residents who live nearby reported that several sea cows they had been watching over the last couple of weeks were missing.

FWC officials said it's not uncommon for manatees to leave the Indian River Lagoon during cold snaps and head into canals. Wildlife officials said it's likely the manatees followed each other into the storm drainage pipe.

Satellite Beach Public Works crews installed a temporary stainless steel grate Tuesday in front of the pipes where the manatees entered.

Satellite Beach leaders said they never had manatees in the pond that sits in front of City Hall until crews removed the grate the kept them out.

"So, we had it removed and we cleaned it and when we cleaned it a manatee slipped in," said Courtney Barker, city manager of Satellite Beach.

Barker said they called Florida Fish and Wildlife to have the manatee removed, but biologists had a different idea -- letting the manatees come freely into the pond to get away from the cold water.

"We left it open and what we were in the process of is getting the grate for the other side to prevent them from going down the pipes, but we didn't move fast enough," said Barker.

The next thing they knew, 19 manatees were wedged in the drainage pipe that opens into the pond. The dramatic 10-hour-long rescue unfolded, capturing the attention of hundreds of folks who live nearby.

Dominck Piscitelli, 8, was at the scene until the last manatee was freed around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"Once they got them all out it was pretty exciting to see that they were all OK," said Dominck.

Phone and cable lines were cut during the rescue, affecting AT&T customers in the area. Crews worked early Tuesday to repair the lines.

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