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Large sinkhole found in Bethlehem Township, home evacuated

By 69 News, follow: @69news, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 11 2013 03:53:58 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 11 2013 03:03:52 PM CDT

Sinkhole displaces family

BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. -

A family was forced to leave its home in Northampton County on Sunday after a gaping sinkhole swallowed part of the property. The pit is now making life uncertain for folks who live nearby.

Crews think a break in a sewer line in the area of 2nd Street and Wilson Avenue in Bethlehem Township may be to blame for the sinkhole.

Officials estimated it's 100 feet wide and more than 10 feet deep, but there really won't be any answers until Monday when Geotechnical Engineers can get on site and analyze the area.

"I was walking my dogs and when I came around the corner I seen the big hole and then I seen my lawn that it's going to go more."

For homeowner Doris Jenkins a peaceful Sunday morning quickly turned into a nightmare.

"The side of the house is sinking in too, it's shifting," explained Jenkins. "And we have cracks in the walls and stuff."

The large sinkhole opened up right under her property, forcing her, her daughter and granddaughter to pack up their things and evacuate. Caution tape and barricades surrounded the house and hole.

"Of course I'm concerned about the house," shared Jenkins.

For most of the day, crews worked to dig up a 16-inch sewer line that runs down the block. They had been here earlier in the week.

"Last Tuesday they had a force-main issue that broke," said Asst. Chief Ron Ford, Bethlehem Twp. Fire Co. "Temporarily patched it, repaired that."

Officials now worry more breaks on the force-main could be the reason for the sudden sinkhole. They tell us two smaller sinkholes opened up nearby Friday and Saturday. Right now no services are disrupted to neighboring homes and no one else has been forced out yet. Folks who live nearby are on edge.

"Yeah I'm worried," added neighbor Dave Thoder. "You think well maybe it's going to happen other places."

Officials say repairs will take several days, but it will be several weeks before its back to normal. Crews plan to replace part of the sewer line and investigate just how big the sinkhole is underground. It's unclear when Jenkins and her family will be allowed back inside their home.

"We just have to wait and see," she said.

Sinkholes are fairly common in Pennsylvania. A scientist with the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown tells 69 News the entire Lehigh Valley could be at risk for a major collapse. David Smith explains that underneath the soil is a limestone bedrock. It's extremely difficult to predict when or where a sinkhole will happen.

"A sink hole is an area of the ground that's collapsed, usually because the material underneath has been dissolved away, in Pennsylvania it's because we have limestone being dissolved away," Smith explained. "Ultimately the soil above the limestone collapsing into that cavern."

Most homeowner's insurance does not cover a sinkhole collapse.