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Moscow Street Collapses

May 15, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ Masha Shaumian had just left her penthouse office in central Moscow and was driving home in the rain when the road in front of her started to buckle and collapse.

A four-wheel drive vehicle 10 yards in front of her, which had been stuck in a pothole, began sinking into the earth Thursday.

Within three minutes, the car had disappeared _ although the driver jumped to safety _ and the pothole had grown into a crater 75 feet deep, 120 feet long, and 80 feet deep.

``I thought that it was the end of the world,″ said Shaumian, public relations director for the Russian edition of Vogue magazine, who made an abrupt U-turn and drove home, trembling all the way.

Water from pipes damaged by the sinking pavement began spewing into the hole, and the front of a two-story building collapsed. Dozens of residents were evacuated for fear of a gas explosion or more structural damage, but no injuries were reported.

The collapse of Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street _ just blocks from the Kremlin _ is the latest example of how Russia’s crumbling. Soviet-era infrastructure is falling apart.

Even Moscow _ which is more prosperous than the rest of the country and has an ambitious building program _ can’t keep up with the almost constant need for repairs.

In recent months, three people have boiled to death in Moscow after the ground dissolved beneath their feet and they fell into pits of boiling water leaking from underground pipes.

Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev blamed Thursday’s street collapse on rain mixing with earth that had been moved so that repairs could be made on pipes carrying hot water to homes and offices.

The area _ just north of the Hall of Columns, where Stalin held his show trials, and south of the Stanislavsky Theater _ is already a beehive of construction work, with new buildings being erected, old ones under renovation and nearby streets torn up.

The ground sank between two deserted buildings, eventually swallowing two vehicles and a tractor, the Interfax news agency said. A trolley bus full of people was only a few seconds away from crossing that part of the street.

The front of a two-story building awaiting renovation collapsed, and an apartment building opposite was evacuated after it suffered some structural damage. Residents were taken to nearby hotels.

One resident, Valentina Kobalyova, said she heard what she thought was thunder just before she went to bed.

``At 1 a.m. the police started knocking on my door and said `You have 10 minutes to collect your things,‴ she said. ``We quickly went out onto the streets and the buses were waiting there to take us to the hotel.″

The area was sealed off by police Thursday while the crater was being filled by one dump truck-load after another of dirt, gravel and concrete.

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