A gaping hole 30 meters (98 feet) in diameter and 20 meters (65.6 feet) deep opened up in the eastern German town of Schmalkalden early on Monday morning. An empty vehicle plunged into it but no one was hurt, even though the chasm is in the middle of a residential area.
A total of 25 people were evacuated from six houses and soil is continuing to crumble from the edge of the crater, police said. Wolfgang Peter, a resident, said he had been woken by a roaring sound at 3 a.m. on Monday morning. "First I heard the rushing of water and then it sounded as if a dozen gravel trucks were being emptied," Peter told the regional newspaper Thüringer Allgemeine.
He went outside to find out who was carrrying out roadworks at that time of night and found himself standing on the edge of a giant crater right next to his house.
'Natural Cause' Likely
Ralf Luther, a regional official, said 10,000 to 12,000 cubic meters of soil had slipped. A line of garages right on the edge of the hole is at risk of plunging into it and cracks have appeared in nearby houses. Luther said residents were lucky not to have been hurt.
Experts are at the scene to find out what caused the hole. The environment and agriculture minister for the state of Thuringia, Jürgen Reinholz, said: "I assume that there is a natural cause for the landslide." He ruled out that salt mining could have been the cause.
A spokesman for the ministry said the region is prone to landslides because of its geological makeup and pointed out a similar case in the town of Tiefenort where five houses became uninhabitable when a two-meter deep crater opened up in January.
cro -- with wire reports
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