New Jersey Sinkhole: Forklift Operator Swallowed By Huge 10-Foot Hole

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 21, 2013 12:37 PM EDT

Sinkhole
A sinkhole in a New Jersey warehouse swallowed a forklift operator Danny Rodriguez yesterday. One of the biggest-ever sinkholes occurred in Guatemala City in 2010 (above). (Photo: Reuters)

A sinkhole in a New Jersey warehouse swallowed a forklift and its operator yesterday.

The forklift operator, Danny Rodriguez, was not seriously injured, authorities said. Rodriguez and his forklift sank into the 10-feet-deep sinkhole, followed by a tidal wave of cooking oil and soy sauce. The forklift may have saved Rodriguez from drowning in the stuff, rescuers said. The forklift also prevented him from being crushed when he fell.

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Officials aren't yet sure how the floor of a warehouse opened up. The building has been closed pending investigation.  

Steve Garonyi, a trucker who works nearby, saw a "frantic" Rodriguez standing outside shortly after he'd been rescued.

"I saw him covered in oil and fluid from the waist down," he said.

Garonyi headed into the warehouse to see the sinkhole, and said, "I was frozen looking at it. I couldn't believe what I was seeing." He added, "It's amazing he was able to get out. He only said his back hurt."

The owner's property manager, Bruce Jordan, said that the reinforced concrete foundation had given way, emptying into a basement that no one knew was there. Jordan thought the concrete floor was built over dirt.

If that's the case, then what occurred in this New Jersey warehouse isn't technically a sinkhole -- it's a just a floor that gave way.

In nature, sinkholes occur as a result of erosion. Burst water mains, for instance, could carry soil away from underneath a road. Or simple groundwater can cause a sinkhole to open up. If the rock below a surface is limestone or any other type of rock that can be dissolved by circulating water, the rock can dissolve over time. Empty space gradually forms below the surface, until all at once the land collapses.  

That's what happened recently in Florida, when a man named Jeff Bush was swallowed into a 60-foot-deep sinkhole as he lay in bed.

It's not so surprising that that occurred in Florida, the most sinkhole-prone part of the U.S. According to UNF associate professor of civil engineering Dr. Nick Hudyma, "The limestone in Florida is very young, is very weak, and is easily weathered." When the limestone dissolves, the rock and soil above it go down into a sinkhole, "much like a sand hourglass."

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