CHICAGO, May 28 (UPI) -- Firefighters wearing hazardous-materials suits rescued a reclusive senior couple in Chicago trapped under a mound of trash and hoarded junk, authorities say.
Retired teacher Thelma Gaston, 79, and her former zoologist husband, Jesse Gaston, 76, may have been trapped for as long as two weeks amid trash, moldy food and garbage so fetid the smell kept neighbors at a distance until one finally called authorities, The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday.
"I can't believe how long we all waited before acting," said Reola Valentine, who alerted authorities Monday because she hadn't seen the Gastons for three weeks.
Neighbor Andrea Adams said: "We called the man 'Fred Sanford' because he was always collecting junk. He's a friendly guy, but he wouldn't let anyone in."
Trash filled every inch of the garage so when the door was opened there was an intact, perfectly formed wall of junk, the Sun-Times said.
Jesse Gaston, who was taken to a hospital, remained unconscious, and relatives said his wife was unaware of her surroundings.
Geralin Thomas, a chronic disorganization specialist who works with hoarders, said hoarding is often prompted by emotional trauma.
"It's very complex -- so many things can trigger it," she said.