(CNN) — The bodies of two children buried alive Sunday at a home construction site in Lincoln County, North Carolina, were recovered Monday morning, according to Dion Burleson, a spokesman for Lincoln County Emergency Management.
A 6-year-old girl and a 7-year-old were playing in a deep pit behind a relative’s home when a wall of the pit collapsed. Rescue workers spent hours trying to save them.
“There are times when calls like this happen when we are not able to make a difference because it is outside of our realm,” Burleson said. “It is devastating not only to the family but to all the responders out here.”
Crews had reached 20 feet below ground as they carefully sifted through layers and layers of dirt.
‘God will take care of them’
The children were playing in the deep pit behind a family member’s home in a rural area of Lincoln County, about 20 miles northwest of Charlotte.
Neighbors told CNN affiliate WCNC that the children are cousins and were trapped after a wall of a basement that was under construction collapsed.
One of the children’s father called 911 after seeing them fall — and an army of rescue workers massed at the mouth of the deep pit.
They began digging, using shovels and bare hands. Family members of the children, some of them kids themselves, stood nearby as neighbors consoled them.
“They kept saying: ‘They have been down there too long without air,'” neighbor Cybil Johnson told WCNC. “That is what the little kids were saying up here. I told them, ‘God will take care of them.'”
But the effort proved daunting for the 75 workers.
A structural engineer was rushed to scene to try and devise a way for searchers to look for the children without causing the deep pit from caving in and adding to the casualty count.
By late Sunday night, authorities had brought in heavy equipment to help stabilize the deep pit.
Crews then began the grim task of recovering the bodies.
–CNN’s Deanna Hackney and Maria P. White contributed to this report.