Sinkhole swallows 8 Corvettes at National Corvette Museum
Mark Boxley, Louisville Courier-Journal 1:51 p.m. EST February 13, 2014
Staff at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green moved an additional 20 cars out of the iconic Sky Dome Wednesday after a 40-foot sinkhole swallowed eight of the sports cars on display inside the the facility.
Some time before 5:30 a.m. CST, the sinkhole started to form and by 5:44 a.m. motion detectors started going off, the museum said. No one was in or around the museum at the time, said executive director Wendell Strode.
When they got to the museum, emergency personnel discovered a 40-foot sinkhole between 25 and 30 feet deep, Strode said. "It's pretty significant," he said.Engineers at the site have determined the building did not sustain any structural damage since the sinkhole was in the middle of the Sky Dome facility,museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli said.
"The structure of the building is intact and it's fine," she said.
Museum spokesman Bob Bubnis said officials anticipate repairing the damage caused by the sinkhole, but said no timetable or plans for the repairs have been set."These are things we'll look at moving forward," he said, adding they don't anticipate having to move to a different site.The museum issued a statement that said six of the damaged cars were owned by the museum and two — a 1993 ZR-1 Spyder and a 2009 ZR1 Blue Devil — were on loan from General Motors.
The other cars damaged were a 1962 black Corvette, a 1984 PPG Pace Car, a 1992 White 1 Millionth Corvette, a 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette, a 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette and a 2009 white 1.5 Millionth Corvette, the museum said.
The museum is about a mile from the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant where the car is built.
Butch Hume, president of Louisville's Falls City Corvette Club, cringed when he heard which cars were involved.
"I was stunned," he said. "That just doesn't happen in Kentucky and what a terrible place for it to happen."
The Sky Dome houses the museum's "prime cars," Hume said. When news of the sinkhole started to spread, club members inundated Hume's phone with text messages. They all wanted to know how something like this could happen, he said.
"I think anybody who has a Corvette was stunned when they heard that," he said. "Are you kidding me?
"We're all feeling the same way," he said. "Oh man, that's a shame."
If the sinkhole had opened up later in the day when the museum was open, things could have been a lot worse, he added. "Thank God that nobody got hurt."
Emergency personnel allowed museum staff to remove one car, an irreplaceable 1983 Corvette which was not in the sinkhole, Strode said.
Andrea Hales, communications manager at the Bowling Green Corvette plant said there were no 1983 Corvette production models and the only surviving prototype was on display at the museum. She added that the sinkhole had no effect on the nearby plant.
Within hours, Corvette aficionados started to offer assistance. Chuck McMurray, with Tamraz's Auto Parts in Plainfield, Ill., said his company is ready to jump in and help the museum find any original parts that might be needed to restore the damaged cars.
Calling the Corvette part of "American history," McMurray said his company is ready to help. "We have a warehouse full of really weird stuff that we've acquired over the last 50 years," he said.
Engineers at the scene are assessing the situation at the museum, said Jason Polk, a professor of geology and geography at Western Kentucky University. Polk is part of the team investigating the cause and extent of the sinkhole at the museum Wednesday.The Bowling Green-area geology lends itself to sinkholes and they are not at all uncommon, Polk said. The cause of the sinkhole at the Corvette Museum has not been determined, but oftentimes this kind of hole is caused by underground caves that expand over time until the surface gives way, he said.
"Eventually, the soil can't hold it," he said.
There is no telling how long it will take to determine the full extent of damage caused when the sinkhole opened up but everyone at the scene is working hard to make sure the building is safe and "figure out a plan to get the cars out," Polk said.
Another look at the 40-foot sink hole at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green.(Photo: Photo provided by the National Corvette Museum)
The safety of the people working on the situation at the museum trumps any car that might be in danger, Strode said.
"Before we do anything, like remove the other cars, we want that assessment so we know if there's been any structural damage to the Sky Dome," he said.
At this point, it does not look like any other potential sinkholes are threatening the rest of the museum, Polk said.
The museum will be open Wednesday but the Sky Dome will be off limits, Strode said.
"We'll try to get back to business as usual as soon as we can and keep moving forward," he said.
A time frame has not been set for the recovery of the eight cars damaged in the sinkhole, but "we're going to keep it going as quickly as we can," Frassinelli said.
A monetary estimate of damage done to the museum and the vehicles involved had not been determined early Wednesday.