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UPDATE: Albany Water Main Break Closes Part Of South Lake Ave.

In the second major infrastructure failure in the neighborhood this year, a ruptured water main caused a sinkhole that swallowed a car and snarled traffic near Albany's Washington Park today.

In the early morning hours at the intersection of Elberon Place and South Lake Avenue, across from the park, several drivers and pedestrians noticed a SUV parked near the corner, its rear tires appearing flattened. By mid-morning, more than half of the vehicle had sunk down the pavement.   "We didn't know where the break was. We were looking all over the system. We knew it was on a big line, we just weren't sure where it was. Until the sink hole became, visible we weren't sure."

City water commissioner Joe Coffey says the system leak registered on city telemetry around 6:30 a.m.  It wasn't until 8 a.m. they pinpointed its location.  "So we believe at that point probably when the blow-off valve failed. And it took that extra time, probably an hour and a half to two hours, for the structure to be compromised by the high-pressure water. And what complicated a little bit is the car that fell into the sinkhole dropped on a gas main. And it dropped next to a National Grid power pole. The force of the water spewing from the 42-inch water pipe rapidly eroded the soil around the car.”

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
A crane holds up a sagging power pole at the corner of Elberon and South Lake.

By 2 p.m., the red SUV had sunk below sidewalk level: the sidewalk itself now collapsing.  A small crane was brought in to hold up a power pole at the corner. A tree had to be cut down to ease access by heavy equipment. Utilities were temporarily shut down. Two ancient 42-inch valves, one on Madison, the other on Western Avenue, had to be carefully closed.

Several work crews, trucks and machines converged on the scene. Sewers at opposite ends of the sinkhole had to be reinforced as preparations got underway to recover the SUV. 

A multi-story apartment building at the corner was evacuated –  "...which we've been monitoring. We asked people to evacuate that building just until we can make sure there's no issues with the foundation."

Coffey added the city would provide emergency shelter for the residents, if necessary.  The city issued guidelines regarding water discoloration at some Albany residences affected by the break, saying that the brown water is safe to drink and does not need to be boiled. To eliminate the discoloration, residents should run cold water until it runs clear.

Until further notice, people should refrain from washing clothes to prevent stains.

Back on South Lake Avenue, word spread that the SUV belonged to a medical student who lived nearby. On the other side of Washington Park, a sinkhole that appeared in May forced the closure of New Scotland Avenue at Madison Avenue: it was weeks before repairs could be completed there.

Coffey says crews, and the SUV, will likely be on the scene for several days, until the extent of the underground void is known, most certainly through Saturday. Although city hall was following the break and issuing alerts on social media, a spokesman for Mayor Kathy Sheehan said she was out of town, unable to comment on the situation.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.