October 6, 2008

Sinkhole Forces Rostraver Residents to Flee

Residents of two Rostraver homes were evacuated Saturday by the Rostraver Central Volunteer Fire Department, after one homeowner spotted cracks outside the property and the back of the house started to slide.

Township officials said a sinkhole, the cracks and the sliding seemed to indicate mine subsidence.

Jules Massey Jr., son of Jules Massey Sr., 63, and Ninfa Massey, 68, said his parents knew that their home at 121 Lee Drive, Belle Vernon, was built 101 feet above a mine when they purchased the property in 1971.

But he said they had no problems until yesterday morning. After hearing a lot of popping sounds while in the kitchen, Ninfa Massey looked out the window and saw "six or seven gaping cracks in the driveway," Massey Jr. said.

Massey Sr. went outside and found an addition hanging off the back of the house.

"The back of the house is ready to come down," Massey Jr. said.

He said his parents were too upset to speak about the incident.

Rostraver fire Chief Vincent Campbell said the house is not liveable. He advised the residents to leave, and utilities were shut off at both houses. The American Red Cross was contacted to provide temporary housing for the Masseys and a single resident of a neighboring home.

"I told them to pack clothes for a week," Campbell said. "I told them they are not permitted on the property until Monday or until they hear from me."

Campbell said the Department of Environmental Protection will send representatives from its Department of Mining to the site on Monday.

Helen Humphreys, DEP spokeswoman, could not be reached for comment last night.

Massey Jr. said his parents were concerned that a township project to install sewage lines, including on property below his parents' residence, and the moving of heavy equipment and pounding of bedrock could have caused the problem.

He said his parents have mine subsidence insurance.

"That's not the issue," he said.

He said numerous township officials were at the scene yesterday, and that he was documenting the damage with photos and video.

Township Commissioner Thomas Patterson visited the home yesterday.

"It looks like severe mine subsidence," he said.

Asked whether the recent work done in laying sewage lines could have contributed to the sliding, he said, "I can't answer if that had anything to do with that."

He said the sewage project has been going on for over a year in Pricedale, Lynnwood and along routes 201 and 70.

"We have severe subsidence in Rostraver and North Belle Vernon from an old coal mine in Pricedale," Patterson said. "Mine subsidence insurance down here is almost a necessity."

Township engineer Carl DeiCas visited the site yesterday and said the damage appears to be the result of mine subsidence.

"It damaged sewer lines we just put in," he said.

But he said the sinkhole is away from the sewer line. And the project was completed in that area several months ago.

"The equipment's gone, grass is growing," DeiCas said. "What happened is a coincidence. I feel bad for those people."

He said the township would work with the DEP to try to rectify the problem and take care of the homeowners and the sewer lines.

"We want to get the problem solved for everybody," he said.

Originally published by The Tribune-Review.

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