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House Topples Into Sinkhole After Heavy Rains Overflow a Sewer

December 12, 1995

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A three-story house in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes toppled into an enormous sinkhole and broke apart in a spray of timbers, walls and ceilings Monday.

The earth had opened up after torrential rains broke a century-old sewer line.

A neighbor’s garage also dropped into the hole, and at least seven other houses in San Francisco’s exclusive Sea Cliff neighborhood were evacuated, including the childhood home of photographer Ansel Adams, which was built in 1902.

No injuries were reported; the occupants of the wrecked Tudor-style house were apparently on vacation.

The storm sewer broke at about 2 a.m., releasing a gusher of water that undermined the hillside below the houses. The hole quickly grew to about 200 feet by 150 feet and was about 100 feet deep.

``It’s like a water hose on a sand pile,″ said city engineer Todd Cockburn.

``The entire house tipped and just came down the hill and dissolved,″ fire battalion chief Frank Treanor said. ``It just disassembled.″

A Pacific storm sweeping across the Northwest had dumped more than 3 inches of rain on the city by 10 a.m.

The drenching closed a major oceanfront thoroughfare in San Francisco, flooded underpasses and created at least four smaller sinkholes. High winds delayed flights at San Francisco International Airport. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said some 13,000 people were without power in the area.

The miserable weather also raked Oregon and Washington, causing power and driving problems in those states.

Brian Christianson was sitting in his house in San Francisco’s Castro District when a sewer main break washed a car-sized hole in his street.

``When it broke, the water geysered 3 feet high right out of the toilet and the shower. I ran out to buy sandbags,″ Christianson said.

In Sea Cliff, residents said the area near Lobos Creek, which runs into the failed storm sewer, has been a problem for years. They said they had warned the city several times.

``I hope these people sue them for all they’re worth,″ said Jake Murdock, head of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, which includes the affected homes.

He blamed the sinkhole on recent construction in the sewer system, but Cockburn said he didn’t think it was to blame.

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