Just before rush hour hit Baltimore, Maryland, on April 30, a block-long slice of 26th Street gave way, sending a retaining wall, sidewalk, gate, and five cars into a rail tunnel below. Witnesses report feeling the ground shake and hearing a train-like rumbling before the road collapsed. Neither fatalities nor injuries have been reported.
"We're extremely blessed that we're talking about property damage and damage to the street and not any loss of life," Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told local station WBAL-TV. "We are working together right now to put together some resources for individuals whose homes have been impacted. We've had to evacuate the area, and we're trying to help those whose cars have not gone into the sinkhole."
Emergency crews have not retrieved any of the 'swallowed' cars but successfully kept one that was teetering on the edge from falling in.
As Maryland officials attempt to repair and assess the extent of the damage, they're also concerned with determining its cause. Rawlings-Blake believes extreme weather patterns paved the way for the Fiat-sco.
"We've gone from a dreadful winter that has impacted our infrastructure to going into a rainy season, a prolonged rainy season that is also impacting our infrastructure," she said.
Until everything is sorted out, trains and even nearby schools are on hiatus. All residents evacuated from their East 26th Street homes have been placed in alternate housing.
Baltimore is no stranger to ground collapsing underfoot. Within the past two years, large sinkholes have put a dent in the 2300 block of Monument Street (to which bad things come in threes), a busy intersection at O'Donnell and South Conkling, and most recently on I-83, thanks to a collapsed pipe.
Sinkholes can form as rocky ground is naturally eroded by groundwater without sufficient drainage, or over a matter of hours when sewers explode or reservoirs leak. Growing sinkholes often go unnoticed, as the land above them remains intact until the exact point that the subsurface can't maintain it.
According to recent reports, between 20 and 40 percent of the country is susceptible to sinkholes. There is as yet no efficient system for predicting or identifying sinkholes, though people are encouraged to check for small pools of water on their property, doors and windows failing to close properly, cracks in the walls and floors, and especially wilting of small areas of vegetation.
If you get the impression that the ground beneath your home might be hiding a lack thereof underneath, check your homeowner's insurance policy and alert local enforcement immediately.