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Man living underground prompts dismay in family

A sister of Clarence O. Rounds says she and other family members were heartbroken and angry last week when they learned that Rounds has been living in an underground bunker in Buffalo.

Rounds' sister said she hopes to persuade him to move out of the bunker into a safer and more conventional living arrangement.

"When I saw it in [Friday's] paper, I burst into tears. I had to leave work," the woman, a downtown Buffalo office employee, said in an interview Monday.

"Clarence is a very different person who had a very traumatic early life. . . . But I never would have imagined that my brother was living in a hole in the ground."

The woman, who agreed to speak to The Buffalo News on the condition that her name not be published, said the family has been concerned about Rounds for years. She said the family has made numerous efforts to persuade him to move into a shelter or to accept government assistance and move into an apartment.

News media outlets all over the world have published stories about Rounds, 47, over the last week. The reports have focused on the bunker home that Rounds dug by hand in a secluded, wooded area in the northern part of the city.

Rounds sleeps in the 6-foot-deep hole year-round, heating it with a small fireplace he built inside. He cooks and lights the place with electricity from car batteries that he scrounges.

Living outside the grid of society, Rounds carries no identification and seeks no government assistance. He does eat at soup kitchens at times, and he also does odd jobs in the city to make enough cash to buy essentials.

"I have a home. I have friends. I have a support system of people who look out for me," Rounds told The News in an interview at the bunker last week. "I wouldn't recommend this life for everybody, but it works for me."

His sister said she was at first angry at the news media for telling the story. But now, she said, she is thankful that the story helped her to reconnect with her brother.

The woman said she thought Rounds was living in a "tent or lean-to somewhere" in the city, but she said she rarely hears from him and was not aware that he has been living underground for the last six years.

"I found out where he was staying and went up there Friday night," she said. "He was sitting there, outside his bunker, with his head down and a beer can in his hand. He looked up at me and said, 'Sister.' Then he gave me a big bear hug."

Rounds' sister said she brought her brother lights, food and other items. She said that another sister took Rounds out to eat Saturday.

"Now that we're back in touch with him, we're going to be keeping a closer watch on him," she said. "We'll make sure he gets anything he needs."

She said Rounds has three sisters and two brothers, all of whom worry about him and care about him. They have tried for years to get him help, she said, but he has refused. She described him as a fiercely independent man who doesn't like being tied down.

"He's the kind of person who would live in a garage or an old toolshed, rather than taking favors from anyone," Rounds' sister said. "He's afraid of the government, the gas company and the postal service. The last thing he wants is a telephone or a mailbox."

The woman said she is also upset that, in recent days, people have been "treating him like a celebrity, taking him into bars and buying him shots."

"That is definitely not good for my brother," she said.

She added that Rounds' family is concerned about his health and safety and does not want him to continue living underground. She said she would like to buy him a small, rustic piece of property where he could build a cabin.

When asked what she would say to anyone who might criticize her family for losing touch with Rounds, the woman said no one should judge the family without knowing her brother's entire life story.

"I don't owe anyone any explanations," she said. "I'm not ashamed about my brother. I love him."

The woman wept as she described how she imagined her brother spending last Christmas alone in his bunker.

"I'd definitely like to get him out of there this summer, before the next winter," she said. "It's cute, it's clever, but it's not a safe place for him to live."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com and bmeyer@buffnews.com

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