Giacomo Chiapparini, 74, was buried under the cheeses, each of which weighed almost 90 pounds, when a shelf broke in his warehouse in the northern Lombardy region on Sunday, creating a domino effect that brought down thousands of wheels, firefighter Antonio Dusi from Bergamo told AFP.
Rescuers “had to move the cheeses and the shelves by hand,” Dusi said, adding that it “took about 12 hours” to finally find Chiapparini.
The warehouse, located in the small town of Romano di Lombardia near Bergamo, contained a total of 25,000 wheels of Grana Padano, a hard cheese which resembles Parmesan and is very popular in Italy.
Chiapparini had been checking on the ripening wheels, which were stored on metal shelves, the highest of which stood at 33 feet.
A local resident told Italian media the collapse sounded “like thunder,” BBC News reported.
Speaking to Italian media, a neighbor described Chiapparini as “very supportive… and generous.” They said he had lost a child decades ago.
Bortolo Ghislotti, a friend of the victim, told NBC News that Chiapparini’s son Tiziano had just walked out of the warehouse before the incident.
“Tiziano told me he heard a massive noise, he turned around and saw his father buried under thousands of cheese wheels,” Ghislotti told the network. “He knows that if he got out seconds later, he would be dead too.”