A pair of eastern Pennsylvania homes structurally damaged by a massive sinkhole may have to be demolished, and officials said Friday that they were assessing the integrity of several other homes and the possible need to exhume nearby graves threatened by the gaping maw.
About 25 residents were evacuated from a block of North 10th Street in Allentown on Thursday after the appearance of the hole, which stretched the width of the road and left sidewalks suspended in the air. It's about 20 feet deep, according to the Express Times newspaper of Easton.
City officials are unclear whether a water main break caused the gaping hole, or if a pre-existing sinkhole caused the main to break.
"I've seen this happen many times, and we probably never will get an answer to that question," Allentown Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said.
Regardless of the cause, Scheirer said it's likely that two 19th-century rowhouses will have to be razed because they have shifted badly. A final determination will be made by geologists and structural engineers, he said.
One of those homes belongs to Ed Tucker, who has not been allowed to retrieve any belongings because of the danger. He provided firefighters with a list of important possessions and where they can be found in his home of 22 years.
"They're trying to get some of our things out now," Tucker told the Express-Times. "It's not nearly enough, but it's something."
Water from the main break seeped underneath 54 graves in the neighboring Union and West End Cemetery, separating some of the stones from the bases. However, records indicate many of the headstones in that section of the cemetery do not actually mark graves.
Deborah Cox-VanHorn, who served as the cemetery association president for more than 20 years, said many of the markers were moved from the Old Allentown Cemetery in the 1800s.
"They did not move bodies. They moved the markers, and that was kind of customary at the time," she told The Morning Call of Allentown.
There are no immediate plans to exhume remains, Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said Friday.
Replacing the water main and filling the sinkhole will likely take two or three weeks, said Richard Dougherty, the city's manager of water resources and distribution. He said about 150 feet of pipe needs to be replaced.
Residents of less damaged homes have been allowed back to retrieve some items. Resident Yahaira Delgado told The Morning Call that while it appeared her home would be spared demolition, she worried about the overall effect of the disaster.
"It's kind of nerve-wracking to know the adjacent homes might have to go down," she said. "I mean, how stable is your house going to be when it's supported by the others?"
Information from: The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com