Monday, November 19, 2012
Massive Sink Holes Found in Rockaway
Background: I am a construction management expert witness on projects up to $100M and have held the title of and/or worked in the capacity of engineer for over 8 years as well. I went to the 1999 Turkey and the 2010 Haiti earthquakes by myself to help out and had great success. About 6 months ago, I joined the Team Rubicon volunteer group. I flew in to NY from Phoenix on the 8th to join the team at Rockaway.
On 11/11/12 working with Team Rubicon (TR) I found water seeping through the basement wall of a house near Beach 68th St & Bayfield in Rockaway, NY. I then went outside and found an in-line series of obvious sink holes in his back yard. Alarmed, I continued looking into the issue going door to door in that same line in search of identifying the source and/or scale of the danger. I found another sink hole, then another, etc. all of which were in a nearly perfect straight line. I then tracked these holes to the intersection of Beach 67th St & Almeda, 750 feet away. Looking at the pavement I could see that the street’s asphalt was nice and smooth and rather new going up the hill to the west but was very badly deformed throughout the intersection (not buckled, but sunken in spots). I spoke to a neighbor child who told me that the intersection that he rode his bike on every day was NOT like that prior to Sandy. It appears to me that the asphalt on this entire intersection may very possibly be deformed due to soil erosion beneath and could lead to vehicles crashing into a sink hole.
As I was finding more and more evidence and sending photos and my findings in to Headquarters (HQ), I was pulled off of this task that I had gotten myself emotionally involved in by my team as they wanted me to continue the original mission.
I told everyone in TR that I could get my hands on from noon on 11/11 to noon on 11/12 that this could be a huge clear and present danger to the people of this neighborhood (especially the kids playing in their back yards) and to vehicles driving through that intersection and nearly begging my team to put a crew or at the least ME on the issue to get the city working on it and to warn the neighbors of the immediate dangers. I explained that I believed that a city water main might be causing the erosion which seemed to be the most logical cause due to the perfectly in-line nature of the sink holes.
Around 1:00 on 11/12 I arrived back on site after being sent out by my team on a solo mission. I traced the sink holes back to the bay to the north and then took photos and documented each hole location, etc. I interviewed more neighbors, told them what I had found and to keep their kids from playing in the back yards. As I was searching for the end of the sink holes towards the south, I spotted a city water crew working in a pit just before the Beach 67th St and Thursby intersection on the east side of the street. I asked a worker what the problem was and he told me that they were fixing a city water main break! I told him about the sink holes that were perfectly in line with their line break. He told me not to worry and that it couldn’t possibly be related. I asked him “so if you draw a straight line from your water main break to the bay and see that it passes directly under the 10+ sink holes and the house with the water pouring into his basement (and I later found, water squirting from the ground near a fire hydrant and also under 3 homes that reported spraying sewage from their toilets and drains which sounds like a liquefaction scenario to me), that it is not possibly related?” He said no and walked away…
I flagged down a car full of NYPD who thankfully were willing to look at the issue that I was passionately describing. I walked the 6 or 7 officers through the entire series of sink holes, showed them the water leaching into that basement and explained how the only reasonable conclusion as to the probable cause of this was a city water main break. Walking this with the officers, they found an additional hole and this one was the biggest and scariest yet! It had about a 3’ diameter opening, a 3’ cave ceiling inside, then about 18” air pocket (cave) and then a 2’ deep pool of water and this huge sink hole is very close to the foundation of a home with children! Officer Patrick Wang put on rubber gloves and dipped his finger into the water coming into the basement and explained that he believed it to be fresh water and how that further points toward a water main break and an escalating danger even to the homes on this block collapsing into these holes!
They called city engineers and requested an immediate investigation. They told one neighbor that asked what was going on that this appears to be a water main break and resulting sink holes and not to let her kids play in the back yards. Feeling like a CSI investigator working with the NYPD (a childhood fantasy), I asked the officers for a photo. The 8 year old boy that lives in the home with one of the 10’ deep sink holes, Alfonso, took a photo with me and 5 officers. It seemed like a complete success and that I could now relax.
Then without notifying each resident on the block or closing the Almeda intersection, they left at around 4:30pm. Frustrated, I went door to door for the next few hours notifying residents and looking for further evidence as to the origin of the problems.
I stayed there into the night (an absolute TR no, no due to safety concerns) expecting someone to come to at least put up caution tape around each opening (even though the sink holes could be much larger under the surface and at least one I found was a hole not visible as it had the grass and roots covering the hole much like a bear trap) but no one came. I stayed in the neighborhood until 1:30am the next day and then started walking to get myself back to the TR Brooklyn base.
On 11/14 my TR friend Jose was able to convince the TR leadership to let the 2 of us go out to put up caution tape as well as for him to take good photos of each hole. At Jose’s suggestion, we found a 10’6” long pole and probed each hole to somewhat accurately measure and illustrate in photos the depth / extent of each hole. To our amazement, some holes were just over 10’ deep!
Frustrated that NO ONE but me and now Jose are doing Anything about the danger, another TR member, Louis suggested that he might have contacts that could get this story in front of the mayor and that if I call 311 and establish a service request claim, they could run with it. I called. The claim number is C1-1-801591567 submitted at 3:38pm on 11/14 to the DOT.
Please help me to get this story out BEFORE someone gets hurt or dies! Ironically the photo that Alfonso took illustrates how no one seems to care that this 4’6” boy clearly fits into the 10’ deep holes!
Update: 11/19, 9am - I just got off the phone with a couple of the residents on this block and they tell me that NO ONE has been there yet and that the water is still flowing (theoretically worsening the subsurface erosion issue which caused the 12 visible sinkholes).