(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Cape Girardeau public works director Tim Gramling on Wednesday said continued Mississippi River flooding means the sinkholes that have shown up in the South Sprigg Street area remain "active" with the potential to grow.
"When I say they're active, that means they continue to grow and swallow whatever is inside or nearby the hole," he said. "That's just the nature of a sinkhole."
"It's actually just part of one that's already there," he said. "It's kind of difficult to explain, but they're all a part of the same underground system."
The city so far has found four sinkholes in the area that now is being called the "South Sprigg sinkhole area." Two are on the road, another near LaCroix Creek and one underneath the bridge on Sprigg Street.
Gramling said growth or "movement" was to be expected and the city is trying to determine whether anything could be done about the problem. The sinkholes have closed a portion of South Sprigg Street.
The sinkhole near the creek is causing water to flood into the nearby Buzzi Unicem quarry. Gramling previously said employees from Buzzi Unicem were attempting to keep down the flow into the quarry by damming the creek. Messages left at Buzzi Unicem on Wednesday afternoon were not returned.
Another hole formed Tuesday in a south-side yard, but emergency responders who went to the scene said it wasn't clear whether this new void was a sinkhole similar to those along Sprigg Street.
The Cape Girardeau Fire Department at 7:25 p.m. on Tuesday responded to a call of a possible sinkhole formation on South Ellis Street.
Fire chief Rick Ennis said firefighters found a hole behind a vacant house at 1125 S. Ellis St., but he was unsure Wednesday whether it was an actual sinkhole.
"At this point we're not treating it like it is [a sinkhole], but we will be monitoring the area to see if it's an isolated incident or if more occur," he said.
Ennis said there were no hazards, injuries or damages.
The incident occurred about 1 mile north of the sinkholes that have formed at South Sprigg Street.
Gramling said at that distance, it is unlikely the Ellis Street hole is related to the Sprigg Street sinkholes. While he has been out of town and unable to look at the hole for himself, Gramling said the collapse likely occurred because of a void left underground from an old sewer line or septic tank.
Although the sinkholes have been a concern in that area since 2007, the problem worsened when the Mississippi River rose above flood stage for the second time this spring, cresting just short of 45 feet June 7. The river was slow to retreat, hovering just below the "major" flood mark of 42 feet into the next week.
The river at Cape Girardeau was estimated to be at almost 35.5 feet Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage at Cape Girardeau is 32 feet.
Gramling also has said the retreating water can actually aggravate the sinkholes.
On Wednesday, representatives with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Missouri State Emergency Management Agency met with local emergency management officials to inspect the sinkholes on South Sprigg Street and conduct joint preliminary damage assessments.
"The assessors came to look at any damages or impacts the local community sustained as a result of the flooding, including the sinkholes," said Mark Hasheider, assistant fire chief and emergency management coordinator for Cape Girardeau. "They do this anytime there's been a federal [disaster] declaration."
FEMA spokeswoman Cindy Kimber said the assessment provides officials with a "big picture" to determine what assistance may be needed for disaster recovery.
"Basically, what they're looking at are the protective measures in place and any damages that might have occurred to infrastructure," she said.
Once the assessment is complete, Kimber said the information will be used to determine whether it is within the state's capability to assist the community or whether federal assistance will be required.
1125 S. Ellis St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.
2300 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.