ROSS TOWNSHIP, Pa. - Crews began the daunting task Wednesday of cleaning up after a massive sinkhole opened up on McKnight Road, swallowing a woman's car.
The hole suddenly opened up Tuesday evening in a parking lot of a tanning salon on the busy roadway. According to emergency dispatchers, the incident was reported at Hollywood Tans in the 7500 block of McKnight Road around 4:30 p.m.
Early Wednesday, a contractor arrived at the scene and began marking the right lane of McKnight Road, closest to the hole. It was not immediately clear if repairs will impact traffic.
Channel 11’s Brandon Hudson was there as the Ross Township building inspector arrived as well. He told Hudson that he’s working to make sure the buildings surrounding the hole are safe.
Channel 11’s Jennifer Tomazic spoke to the Ross Township manager Wednesday. He told her two years ago, as a courtesy to businesses in the area, the township sent cameras into the water lines to show their conditions.
“We actually camera-ed the lines as a courtesy to property owners. We invited them here to the township, and we distributed reports to them, indicating there are sections that need to be addressed,” said Ross Township Manager Douglas Sample.
Sample said some businesses took the suggestion, while other didn’t. He did not know which businesses decided to fix the lines because owners were not required to report it.
Hollywood Tans rents the building, Tomazic reported.
The owner of the car said she was inside the vehicle when the hole began to swallow it. Natalie Hulleston said the owner of the salon helped her get out before she was hurt.
“I left the tanning bed, got in my car and I started to back out. I felt a thump and I was kind of sticking up in the air. The back end of my car was disappearing into the parking lot and I couldn’t see it,” said Huddleston. “I hit the gas and there was nothing touching the back wheels. I felt it teetering and rocking so I called the lady in the tanning bed and said, ‘Get out here and help!’”
The entire vehicle vanished underwater within minutes.
“We sat and watched my car sink deeper and deeper,” said Huddleston.
“It was shocking to see the footage of the car and to be there live to see the car in the hole,” said Sample.
Ross police Detective Brian Kohlhepp told Channel 11’s Courtney Brennan and Pamela Osborne the sinkhole was caused by the apparent collapse of an active but older and deteriorating storm drain. He said the line was 48 inches or 60 inches in diameter.
Authorities temporarily closed the road southbound between Browns Lane and Ross Park Mall Drive, but two of the three lanes reopened by early evening Tuesdsay. Northbound lanes remained open.
The Midas store and BJ Nail and Spa were evacuated, and the utilities to all three businesses were shut off as a precaution.
Another vehicle near the sinkhole was towed out of danger, and crews pumped the water out and removed Huddleston's car.
The area contains an underground stream, and developers built pipes to contain the water, Ross police said.
The car was eventually removed around 10 p.m. No injuries were reported.
Kohlhepp said he had never seen a sinkhole caused by a deteriorating stormwater pipe.
“It's fortunate that this wasn't under McKnight Road,” Ross Commissioner Jeremy Shaffer said. “That would have been a disaster for the business district.”
Kohlhepp said township officials had been in discussions with property owners about the deteriorating pipes.
“It's a private property issue, not government-maintained,” Kohlhepp said.
For all other business owners, along McKnight, Sample has this advice:
“I would camera those lines, contact their engineers and take a look at making sure their storm line in front of their property is maintained.”
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.