A man has been pulled from a drain after claiming he spent three days wandering around the sewers looking for an exit after falling down a manhole.

Essex police pulled the unnamed 48-year-old man up through a manhole in the middle of Brentwood Road in Romford, east London, last Thursday afternoon (8 February).

He was dirty and disoriented, but showed no sign of any major physical injuries. The first thing he was reported to have said after his 72-hour ordeal was: "Does anyone have a fag?"

Sam Palmer, who works nearby at Big White Cube Vehicle Hire, said she and people at neighbouring businesses could hear cries for help but could not work out where they came from.

She told the Sun Online: "We were looking up and all around. He just kept shouting 'help' over and over again but he didn't say he was in a drain."

She added said it took officers around 20 minutes to figure out precisely where the man was underground.

Muhammad Khan, who works at the same car hire service, said: "They'd pulled the man out and he was sitting looking confused on the pavement, wearing an aluminium jacket. It's lucky they found him because it's been so cold recently anything could have happened."

Eyewitness Lorraine Moss added: "Initially, I assumed that someone had been run over. However, as I got closer I could see a man standing in the drain, only the top half of his body was visible and he was covered in dirt."

The victim told police he had fallen into the sewer in Barking, on 5 February, and covered six miles over the last three days trying to find a way out.

But Thames Water said the man probably entered sewer system through an exit of a surface water system on a housing estate, about a mile away. It added that after an inspection it had not found any exposed manholes in the area that he could have fallen through.

The part of the system the man waded through carries rainwater from roads into the River Rom so he would not have come into contact with human waste during his odyssey.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "Officers attended and freed the 48-year-old man by removing the manhole cover. He was taken to an east London hospital for treatment to injuries to his feet. His injuries are not life threatening."

A London Ambulance Service spokesman said: "We were called by the Metropolitan Police at 12:58pm to Brentwood Road, Romford, to reports of a man found in a drain.

"We sent an incident response officer and team leaders in an ambulance. We treated him at the scene for ankle injuries and for exposure to cold temperatures and water."