GASTONIA, N.C. -- Temperatures were below freezing and the frost began building around the four-foot-wide manhole.

Sixty-six-year-old Ronald Ervin of Gastonia admits hope of being rescued began fading when calls for help went unanswered.

I did, but I kept praying. I said I am not going to make it out here alive.

Ervin spoke to NBC Charlotte from his hospital bed at Gaston Memorial just before heading into surgery.

Firefighters spent 45 minutes to hoist him from a 10-foot-deep manhole Thursday morning.

(Click here to see images from the scene)

Ervin was headed to the store Wednesday night. He took a familiar path, choosing to cross the railroad tracks. Instead, after hopping a three-foot high concrete barrier, he fell directly in.

Twelve long hours later, Ivory Floyd heard Ervin's cries for help.

I asked him how long he's been in there, he said since 8:00 last night.

Floyd works at the auto body paint shop nearby.

I started to take the long route here, but something said to come this way.

Floyd believes it was divine intervention that called him to take a different route to work. He adds, he is usually not scheduled to work on Thursdays, but was called in to fill-in for someone else.

He offered Ervin the water bottle he had in his bag, and did what he could to comfort him. He stayed by his side until emergency crews arrived.

(Listen: 911 call after man found stuck)

I'd like to say thank you... says Ervin to the Good Samaritan.

Ervin calls him a hero, but Floyd's humbly declined to take credit, saying, God was looking out for him, then God let me come by to save his life.

Doctors will try and reposition Ervin's hip during surgery. The manhole features iron rungs allowing someone to climb out. Ervin's broken right leg kept him from pulling himself out.

I hope I can repay the favor one day, says Ervin. That was a blessing from heaven. I could have still been there right now.

The manhole has since been filled with concrete.

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