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News / Clark County News

Vancouver sinkhole that swallowed SUV wasn’t caused by weather

Leaking underground pipe caused deep hole that looked like a mere puddle

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 22, 2024, 3:59pm
2 Photos
A sinkhole that developed over the weekend at the intersection of Washington Street and West 30th Street has been filled with compacted gravel, making the area safe for travelers. This temporary street repair will be in place until paving to repair the street surface fully can be completed this spring with more favorable weather conditions.
A sinkhole that developed over the weekend at the intersection of Washington Street and West 30th Street has been filled with compacted gravel, making the area safe for travelers. This temporary street repair will be in place until paving to repair the street surface fully can be completed this spring with more favorable weather conditions. (City of Vancouver) Photo Gallery

The Washington Street sinkhole that partially swallowed an SUV early Saturday wasn’t connected to last week’s weather, according to the city of Vancouver’s Public Works department.

Early Saturday, around 1:15 a.m., Katlynn Bicknell and her boyfriend were returning from a late-night bite when their SUV nosedived into the depths of Washington Street at 30th Street. They had just stumbled into a sinkhole hidden by a layer of water.

“There wasn’t even time to react, because we saw the water on the sidewalk, and then before I could even say, ‘Hey, look over here,’ it happened,” said Bicknell, a La Center resident. “It was literally a split second.”

Immediately, the vehicle’s floorboards began to fill with water. The two opened their doors, but more water began rushing in, Bicknell said.

As Bicknell was escaping through the passenger door, the SUV fell another foot into the sinkhole, she said. Bicknell’s boyfriend closed his door but rolled down the window and was able to escape.

“Everything went through my brain and nothing went through my brain all at the same time,” Bicknell said. “When we escaped, the water was up to our knees.”

The sinkhole — about 4 feet deep, 12 feet long and 10 feet wide — was caused by a water main break, which can occur when the pipe develops a hole or crack that lets out water into the surrounding soil, according to public works.

The agency said sinkholes like the one on Washington Street are caused by the size of the pipe, the length of time it was leaking and the amount of water moving through the pipe.

“We have had larger breaks but haven’t had a situation that results in a vehicle driving into the hole,” public works said in a statement to The Columbian. “A lot of times, the mainline failures will push through cracks in the road or the easiest path of resistance and get reported before much damage occurs.”

Public works crews filled the sinkhole Saturday. Once the weather clears and the city’s street department is available, a team will pave the road to fully restore the surface. Residents are able to drive on Washington Street, though motorcycles are urged to use caution, according to street signs.

The Great Ravenna Sinkhole

Sinkholes aren’t too common in the Evergreen State, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. But a few have happened over the years, most notably The Great Ravenna Sinkhole of 1957 in Seattle. It was more than 200 feet long and 50 feet deep.

And Clark County has had its fair share.

In 2011, a sinkhole — 18 inches in diameter but 8 feet deep — opened in a residential east Vancouver neighborhood after a drainage pipe collapsed underground.

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A football game was rescheduled in 2021 after a small sinkhole formed on Fort Vancouver High School’s field.

Public works said it finds out about water main leaks through customers, usually. But storage tanks are monitored remotely, which allows the city to monitor large leaks.

Public works recommends that drivers avoid traveling through large puddles or moving water because it’s impossible to know what is under the surface.

If drivers encounter potential road hazards, water leaks or other urgent issues, contact the city as soon as possible at 360-487-8177.

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