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City: 98-year-old water main cause of sinkhole that swallowed 3 cars

As a relentless rainstorm battered the Chicago area early Thursday morning, Laide Giwa watched her Dodge Charger drop into a sinkhole.

The hole — which had already swallowed two vehicles before claiming Giwa's car —was not caused by the rain but by a break in an aging water main, officials later said.

Witnesses said the hole opened up in the 9600 block of South Houston Avenue about 5 a.m. and eventually was the entire width of the street.

Two vehicles fell in first, a parked car and then a silver pickup truck driven by Mirko Krivokuca, who lives on the next block and was driving to work.

Krivokuca was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for "a couple of scratches," his father, Petar Krivokuca, said as he stood in the rain , staring in disbelief at the massive hole.

Ola Oni said she was about to leave for work when her parked car dropped into the hole. She was just glad she wasn't in it.

"It could have happened to me," Oni said. "I am lucky. I'm happy."

Giwa, too, had been about to go to work when she saw the sinkhole and ran back into her son's home to call police. First responders arrived and told her not to go near the hole, she said.

Less than an hour later, the strip of concrete where Giwa's car was parked caved in. Her car rolled upside down into the expanding hole.

A fourth vehicle was towed from the edge as it was about to fall in, witnesses said.

"I was really upset," Giwa said later as she flipped through the pictures she'd snapped that morning. A few captured her shiny white car sitting next to the hole. The last showed an empty space where her car had been.

"I'm looking at my car going in the hole," she recalled.

The sinkhole was caused by a water main dating from around 1915 that gave out and breached the sewer below, city Water Department Commissioner Thomas Powers said.

"As the water was flowing from the broken main, it undermined all of the soil underneath the pavement and washed it into the sewer," Powers said.

Ald. John Pope, who represents the 10th Ward where the hole appeared, said the rainy weather "certainly (hadn't) helped" the situation but that aging infrastructure was to blame for the street's collapse.

"This is an unfortunate circumstance. I'm just happy no one was seriously hurt," he said.

Crews spent hours working to repair the water main and retrieve the vehicles. A loader slid metal plates around the sides of the hole to prevent further erosion. A backhoe dug excess dirt and chunks of concrete from inside the hole, clearing the way for a crane to pluck the vehicles out.

Giwa watched anxiously, eager to retrieve her belongings from her car.

A similar breach caused a sinkhole on the Northwest Side near Elston and Foster avenues in 2011, Powers said.

"What happened at both locations was a nearly hundred-year-old water main broke. And the water that was in that water main continues to run. It's under pressure," Powers said.

"And at the same time the water main broke, it breached an old sewer as well, at both locations, washed out the street, washed out all the soil. And the pavement couldn't even handle its own weight anymore, let alone the three cars sitting on top of it."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made the city's aging water system a priority, pushing through water rate increases to pay for replacement of pipes.

Tribune reporter John Byrne and WGN-TV contributed.

kgeiger@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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