Sinkhole causes house to collapse in Lehigh County

by Michael Mosher on January 22, 2018

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A sinkhole that developed in a North Catasauqua neighborhood caused a single-family home to start collapsing, fire officials said.

North Catasauqua Fire Dept. Chief Shawn McGinley said the house in the 400 block of Buttonwood Street sat vacant for a couple years, but neighbors did report seeing the female homeowner, a senior citizen, come and go a few times in recent months. The woman likely abandoned the property when a tree fell on the roof of the house during a major past storm, McGinley said.

Property records show the house is owned by Michael R. and Eliz Sisko. While it dates back to the early 1900s, McGinley said it had several additions and renovations done over the years.

The water line inside the abandoned house eventually broke, which caused the floor in the basement to erode. That caused the hot water heater to fall into the ground, which snapped from the gas line, McGinley said.

Fire officials were able to trace a gas leak Thursday to the house. It is believed the water leakage caused the sinkhole to form, but it’s still being investigated, McGinley said.

“The condition of the house just got worse,” he added.

Deputy Fire Chief Paul Santee said the foundation was cracked all over and it was clear when structural engineers arrived the whole house was coming down.

The house was demolished late Saturday and crews have since placed aluminum fencing around the property. McGinley expected work to be done to repair the sinkhole next week.

There were no reported injuries. Neighbor Thomas Eroh, however, was asked to evacuate his home with his family as a precautionary measure. Eroh told a witness Sunday crews told him to leave, saying the house had to be torn down because part of the building had “shifted a good five feet.”

Paul Barna, who lives on the other side of the home and wasn’t ordered to vacate, said he became aware of the gas leak when a neighbor across the street walked over and stated, ‘You smell that?’

Barna grew concerned having children inside his home and quickly went to check, feeling relieved when he realized it wasn’t coming from his own house, he said. The neighbor then called 911 and within minutes, fire officials were in the neighborhood, Barna said.

Borough officials, Barna added, were at the property all weekend assessing and ultimately deciding the home had to come down.

“I thought the borough did a very nice job in dealing with the situation and the immediacy of it,” he said. “They were able to quickly take care of it.”

Fire officials said the sinkhole has since been contained to that single property and doesn’t appear to be spreading to other properties. It’s being constantly evaluated by engineers and borough officials, McGinley said.

 

 

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