Stormy weather causes giant sinkhole in SF’s Richmond district

After days of wet weather, another inch and a half of rain pelted San Francisco on Wednesday, triggering power outages, flooding and a giant sinkhole in the Richmond.

The sinkhole was reported about 8 a.m. at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Lake Street, after the wheel of a car traveling on Lake Street went through the asphalt, damaging the car, police Lt. Mike Caplan said.

“The driver called police, and since we've been here it's gone from a hole the size of a car tire to what you see here,” Caplan said about 10 a.m., referring to the approximately 20-foot-wide hole that was estimated to be 10 to 40 feet deep.

PG&E crews and city workers approached the sinkhole tentatively as the rain continued to fall midmorning, sending concrete chunks into the hole as two gas lines remained exposed — 2-inch and 4-inch plastic mains.

Jean Walsh, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said it appeared a sewer line that collects stormwater collapsed, though crews would not know for certain until the rubble that fell into the hole is cleared out.

The intersection was cordoned off, but bystanders could still see a thin, unsupported layer of asphalt that grew around the sinkhole in the morning. The hole had stabilized as of the afternoon, Walsh said.

“I don't know what's holding the street up right there. There's nothing under there,” Caplan said of the concrete overhang. “If you were to walk on that, it would cave in.”

No evacuations were ordered as of the afternoon, but water was turned off to residents within a block of the site. PG&E crews excavated four points around the sinkhole to allow them to shut off gas in the immediate area if the sinkhole were to worsen.

“Right now, the sinkhole isn't threatening our gas lines, [but] we're prepared to take immediate action if anything changes,” PG&E spokesman Jason King said in the afternoon.

Despite the rain, spectators from throughout the neighborhood gathered in awe at the site Wednesday.

“Crazy, crazy, crazy,” said Jeff Prendergast, who lives on Lake Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. "This is like 'War of the Worlds'-type stuff.”

Tobias Green, who lives on Sixth Avenue just north of the sinkhole, agreed that the scene resembled a movie.

“'Armageddon,' that was my first thought — or 'Godzilla,'” Green said.

Prendergast noted that the neighborhood is no stranger to sinkholes. About 18 months ago, a patch of concrete at Third Avenue and Lake Street crumbled as well.

“That hole wasn't as big as this,” he said. “This hole is very significant.”

Once the sewer is fixed, crews will fill in the hole with sand and restore the roadway, Walsh said. Repairs were expected to be completed by today.

Rain was expected to ease up in The City later Wednesday, but not before San Francisco received at least 3 inches of rain since Tuesday, said Matt Mehle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

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