A sinkhole was discovered beneath a home on the 800 block of N. Fifth St. in Allentown on Saturday, forcing the evacuation of a block of row homes and displacing 25 people for days and possibly weeks, officials said.
The hole beneath 820 1/2 N. Fifth St. may have been caused by a broken water pipe, Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said, adding that the damage stretched from the basement of the house to the curb.
“I don’t believe the homes will have to be condemned at this point,” Scheirer said. “They may be able to be shored up and repaired.”
But residents would likely be displaced for a couple of days or far longer, depending on the extent of the damage, he said.
No one was injured in the incident, which began around noon. Stephen Miklus of 824 N. Fifth called police after he and his son-in-law, Kevin Shearer, were unable to open the front door of Miklus’ house and realized the door frame had shifted.
“I said right away, ‘Something happened,'” said Shearer, who lives on nearby Penn Street. He went outside and saw a large crack in the lower façade of 820 1/2, then peeked through an outer door into the basement, where he heard water running and saw the massive hole in the floor.
Firefighters evacuated the entire row as a precaution and the water, gas and electricity to the block were shut off.
Miklus and his wife, Leola, who bought their 8-room, two-bathroom home 54 years ago, were going to stay with Shearer. Other residents, who sheltered from the heat and humidity aboard a LANTA bus Saturday afternoon, were to receive housing vouchers and other assistance from the American Red Cross of the Greater Lehigh Valley.
Because the rock beneath Allentown is riddled with natural holes called voids, the city is prone to sinkholes. In December, two dozen residents were forced to evacuate when a water main break and sinkhole damaged homes on the 300 block of N.10th St.
In 1994, a sinkhole famously damaged the city’s Corporate Plaza building, which had to be demolished.
The designers of the proposed downtown hockey arena, which is to rise in the same area where Corporate Plaza fell, have said they will use special construction techniques to avoid sinkhole hazards, drilling hundreds of small foundation holes deep into the subterranean limestone bedrock and filling voids with a special “compaction grout.”
Rich Young, the city’s director of public works, said the holes can open for a variety of reasons. In the past, Young and other officials — including Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey — have recommended homeowners buy sinkhole insurance, which is not a standard part of homeowner policies.