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Southern California sinkhole devours excavator — and driver: ‘I thought I got a flat’

Understanding the science of sinkholes

Sinkholes are most common in “karst terrain” where the type of rock below the land surface, like limestone, can naturally be dissolved by groundwater, according to the USGS. When water dissolves these types of rock, spaces and caverns develop unde
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Sinkholes are most common in “karst terrain” where the type of rock below the land surface, like limestone, can naturally be dissolved by groundwater, according to the USGS. When water dissolves these types of rock, spaces and caverns develop unde

A huge sinkhole opened on a Southern California road Saturday following heavy rains, “swallowing an excavator along with its operator,” the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said.

But at first, the driver clearing mud and debris from Yerba Buena Road didn’t realize the earth had given way beneath him, he said.

“I felt something weird,” excavator operator Gilbert Beltran told CBSLA. “I thought I got a flat.”

Beltran told the TV station that “the back end fell in” and that — just moments after he clambered out of his vehicle and the sinkhole — the front-loader slipped into the sinkhole so far that only the bucket was visible. The 20-foot excavator’s cab was entirely contained in the crater left by the sinkhole, CBS reports.

“The operator was safely rescued, but the excavator and the sinkhole remain,” the sheriff’s office said.

Authorities said the road, which winds through a hilly area north of Malibu, was left unusable. It is closed indefinitely.

“I’m really fortunate, thank God,” Beltran told CBSLA.

The TV station reported that the sinkhole was caused by a pipe that broke under the roadway. It developed after weekend storms in the Los Angeles area left parts of Ventura County with more than 4 inches of rain in a one-day period, which caused flooding, mudslides and fallen power lines, the Ventura County Star reports.

Rock slides and mudflows in Malibu shut down Mulholland Highway as well, KABC reports.

Video shared by NBC shows the abandoned piece of construction equipment in the middle of the road, cordoned off by orange traffic cones and a sign that says “FLOODED.” Land on the side of the road appears to have given way as well.

The area where the sinkhole formed had been burned in the deadly Woolsey Fire, which struck the area north of Los Angeles in November, as McClatchy reported last year.

Motorists were warned to avoid the PCH and surrounding roads within the Woolsey fire burn area, after heavy rainfall on Feb. 2, 2019 triggered rock slides. Southern California experienced heavy rainfall on Saturday.

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