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MailTribune.com
  • Hole-y moly!

    Sudden sinkhole beside a Central Point family's home raises safety worries and unearths questions about past
  • CENTRAL POINT — While thankful for a healthy family and food to eat this Thanksgiving, Lori Etapa found herself especially grateful that a sudden 12-foot-wide sinkhole appearing just outside her bedroom window did not swallow a corner of her house at the corner of Maple and North Fifth streets.
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  • CENTRAL POINT — While thankful for a healthy family and food to eat this Thanksgiving, Lori Etapa found herself especially grateful that a sudden 12-foot-wide sinkhole appearing just outside her bedroom window did not swallow a corner of her house at the corner of Maple and North Fifth streets.
    While she'd never seen a sinkhole, or thought about what she would do if she encountered one, the prospect of her own cozy bed being pulled into a hole in the earth yielded the most logical response possible.
    "I opened my window blinds and saw it and of course I just screamed!" she said. "The earth literally looked like it had just opened up and was going to swallow my bedroom."
    Likely around Thursday night or Friday morning, what appeared to be a small concrete slab had folded into itself and collapsed inside a hole that could measure anywhere from 20 to 25 feet deep.
    "Everyone has different ideas about what it might be. Someone said it could have something to do with the railroad tracks or that maybe it was an old storage area," Etapa said.
    "The weird thing is this house is the first one anyone knows was built here."
    With no explanation for the hole or the apparent chunks of concrete, the sinkhole mystery deepened as Keith Etapa began to retrieve an assortment of near century-old glass, using two poles and a fishing net duct-taped together.
    Still sealed and containing varying amounts of clear liquids, the collection included a 1920s glass Clorox bleach bottle, a port wine bottle, beer bottles, random square bottles, "Dynashine" shoe polish bottles, light bulbs that predate incandescent bulbs of the past century and a handful of other bottles.
    The couple identified the age of the bottles with an online search, noting that prohibition was in effect during the 1920s.
    After first noticing the hole, visible from the road, the couple called after-hours numbers for City Hall to ask what to do. City police inspected the hole to ensure public safety and city crews cordoned off the area with yellow caution tape and fencing.
    Public works director Matt Samitore said small sinkholes are "not uncommon," and that the city sees such occurrences every once in awhile.
    When sinkholes appear on private property, city involvement is limited to offering advice and researching old documents, which Samitore said city officials were working on.
    Built in 1951, according to Jackson County property records, the 63-year-old house is the first structure known to sit on the parcel.
    Etapa, who awaited insurance information on Wednesday, said elderly neighbors in years past had told the couple of mundane landscaping details and house paint colors over the years, but never mentioned any use that would have explained such a hole.
    "They did say that the property was covered with walnut trees," she said.
    "And someone said maybe it was a creosote pit that they soaked railroad ties in. But nothing would explain the bottles."
    Historian George Kramer acknowledged that the bottles add an unusual dynamic to the unexplained hole.
    "It was really typical for rural families to have a dump in the backyard and throw stuff in a hole — out of sight, out of mind," Kramer said. "But sealed bottles is odd. I can't think of any reason people would put a bunch of product in a hole unless they were trying to hide it or maybe store it for a long period of time. Maybe it's moonshine. Maybe there was a fire and debris was pushed into a hole that was created. It would be interesting to know what was going on in that property in the 1920s."
    Hopeful the couple's insurance will cover whatever remedy is deemed necessary for the hole, which appeared to be inching closer to the foundation of her home on Monday afternoon, Etapa had reservations about sleeping in her own bed.
    "One of the contractors who visited to check it out said, 'If it gets any worse, do not stay in the house tonight,' " she noted.
    "I would just as soon not have my bed fall in that hole, thanks. There's no way all that water isn't going underneath my house. I don't think I could fall asleep not knowing for sure."
    Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.
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