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150-foot Manchester sinkhole swallows car

December 12. 2011 10:33AM
Manchester firefighters work to remove a car from a sinkhole at the intersection of North and Beech Streets in Manchester on Monday morning 12-12-2011. (PAT GROSSMITH) 

MANCHESTER - A red Kia was swept into a huge sinkhole at the intersection of North and Beech streets Monday morning when a 12-inch, cast iron water main let go.

Water shot 6 feet into the air and dislodged 10-pound boulders, according to Kevin Clancy of 860-862 Beech St.

'It was wild,' he said. His wife heard a 'boom' and he looked out the window to see a car stuck in a sink hole, water shooting into the air and large rocks being thrown uphill.

Initially, he said, the car's front tires were in the hole, but 'then the whole street fell in.'

The entire car sank a few feet into the hole, which stretched across one lane of North Street for about 150 feet. Police closed a portion of Beech Street and North Street, and about 30 homes on Beech Street were without water until mid-afternoon.

Police said the driver thought it was a puddle and drove through it, ending up in the sink hole.

'That poor woman,' said Robin Henry of 111 North St. 'But they said she went to work.'

Police said the driver was not injured.

The main broke just before 6 a.m. It wasn't until close to 9:30 a.m. that the car was removed, after firefighters looped large cords around the front and back, and hooked the lines to a tow truck that lifted the vehicle out.

Care had to be taken, officials said, because the car was sitting on top of a gas line.

Near Ash Street, about a block west of the sinkhole, city workers used heavy equipment to remove debris washed downhill.

Guy Chabot, Water Works district administrator, called the situation with the water main a 'catastrophic failure' and one where a 'chunk' of the 121-year-old water main blew out, undermining the soil underneath the road.

PSNH employees also were working to steady a utility pole loosened after soil washed away from around its base.

Water Works Director Tom Bowen said the break was at a cast-iron fitting where the water main makes a change in direction. Workers replaced the ruptured section, about 4 feet, with stronger, ductile iron material, he said.

Bowen said water service was restored by 3:30 p.m. He expected Beech and North streets would reopen temporarily.

'We're going to have to come back ( today),' he said.

Water Works is speaking with the city Highway Department about restoration of the streets, and whether to wait until next spring or proceed this fall, Bowen said.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this article.

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