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Wednesday: By morning, the sinkhole had grown bigger, and the car had fallen in deeper. Naomi Yaeger | Forum Communications

Duluth flooding: The sinkhole creates tourist attraction

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DULUTH -- There is a sinkhole across the street from my house that has become a tourist attraction. I've had a front row seat. I met the occupants of the car that sunk into it Tuesday night, watched as it sank lower and lower through the night, and worried that another car would follow suit as the sinkhole metastasized into an eco-disaster.

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I live on Skyline Parkway near 9th Avenue East. A few houses in the neighborhood have occasional late-night parties, and it's not unusual to hear chattering. That night I was trying to sleep but couldn't, wondering what people were doing outside in the heavy rain.

I saw a small group of people gathered on the road and pulled on a bathrobe and flip-flops and ran out. Sopping wet people were standing around a car in a big puddle with water up to its windows.

Before I could worry long about another car running into it, I noticed my next door neighbor, Matt Marino, was helping direct traffic.

The occupants of the car weren't just wet, they were soaked. I was getting cold and I imagined that they were, too, so I invited them out of the rain and into my porch.

We went in, checking of the status of the sinking car from time to time. A man in a red pick-up came by and we cautioned him. We soon saw him again, delivering orange cones to put around the sinkhole. Marino told me that the pick-up driver had gone to the Minnesota Department of Transportation building on Rice Lake Road, where the agency was handing out cones.

I found out the owner of the car was from Seattle and had just graduated college. Her boyfriend had been driving. Their trip to Duluth had been a graduation celebration in which they ran Grandma's Marathon and visited the boyfriend's family. His brother had also been in the car.

We were all in a bit of shock as we sat in my porch, not knowing what to do next. They said they had phoned 911 more than an hour before. At 12:58 a.m., I called. The call went dead. I immediately dialed again and got a busy signal.

Around 1 a.m. a police car showed up. The officer got out, looked around, and left.

At 1:28 a.m., I called again and got through, telling the operator that the occupants were unsure what they were supposed to do. Should they just leave the car there and go? I was told that public works staff would come and put up barricades.

Sometime after this the sidewalk collapsed and the car fell further into the hole. Finally, another police officer came who said conditions were bad all over the city.

It was about 3 a.m. when a friend arrived to give the occupants a ride to the boyfriend's family.

I went upstairs and looked out. The headlights of the Toyota shone up into the sky. People drove up, looked at the sinkhole with the car in it and yelled, "Hey, is anyone in there!"

I tried to go to bed, but the street wasn't barricaded. Every time I heard a noise outside, I'd get up to make sure no one was getting too close to the hole.

At around 4 a.m. I saw the headlights give out. A few minutes later I heard a loud sound and thought I saw a flash of light, which I thought was the car exploding. I posted a comment about it on Facebook and found out lots of people locally were doing the same thing.

My daughter and husband slept through the whole thing.

I think I slept about an hour or two. At 6 a.m., I looked out my window to see workers yelling and waving cars to turn around. The hole was much larger.

After witnessing the growth of a sinkhole I was very leery of driving anywhere. Later that day, I donned rubber boots and walked to work. It took an hour to get there. Streets were crumbing, manholes were bubbling over, but people were out and talking to each other. Even though the landscape was like a war zone, people were friendly. You could tell that they cared about each other.

Naomi Yaeger is editor of the Duluth Budgeteer News. She is a Grand Forks Red River High School graduate and a graduate of the University of North Dakota. In 1997 she was a resident of Grand Fork's Riverside Park neighborhood and survived the Flood of '97. She is familiar with the concept of neighbor-helping-neighbor after a natural disaster; and with mucking out basements.

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