Kensington block still dealing with sinkhole, loss of water, heat

A large sinkhole on the 2300 block of East Boston Street opened on Sunday morning after a water main broke. Residents say community spirit has helped them endure the lack of water and gas.

Neighbors on a Kensington Street that developed a 30-by-10-foot sinkhole over the weekend were adjusting to their strange new reality Monday.

As of late afternoon, 20 homes on the 2300 block of East Boston Street were still without water, and gas service remained off for six of them as a precautionary measure.

Workers labored in a five-foot-deep hole in what has now become a 70-foot-long gash in the muddy street that's closed to traffic.

Pragmatic and philosophical, resident Alyssa Banks, a 40-year-old welder whose parked Kia Soul fell into the sinkhole with a sickening bang around 9 a.m. Sunday, asked, "What would getting mad do? A car in a hole? You gotta laugh."

Banks, who has heat but no water, said she's not sure what the damages on the now-removed car will be. A car parked behind the Soul, an SUV, had been partially submerged in the hole, falling in headfirst behind Banks' car.

What likely happened, said John DiGiulio, spokesman for the Philadelphia Water Department, is that a sewer line under the street developed a hole, and began to take in dirt over several months. The continued erosion formed a void that caused the collapse.

Just before the street fell in on Sunday, a six-inch water main above the sewer line broke because the dirt holding it in place fell away, DiGiulio said. The spill from the fractured main entered several people's basements, he added.

Department workers were called to attend to the water main break, and just as they arrived, the hole opened, DiGiulio said.

Watching workers in the hole on Monday, Pam Tomlinson, 52, and a supervisor at the Social Security Administration, said her house has neither water nor gas - and therefore no heat. She's staying in South Philadelphia with family members, and was on hand Monday to grab up some clothes.

"I was afraid to move my car after the two cars went into the hole," Tomlinson said. A neighbor came to her rescue, moving her vehicle before it too slammed into the void.

People are always doing things like that on East Boston Street, neighbors said. In fact, as strange and wildly inconvenient as the street collapse has been, it's illuminated a fact folks here have long known:

This block takes care of its own.

"This is a good community," said Gary Epis, 48, who lives and works in a building next to Banks. "We all know each other."

Epis, a graphic designer who runs a firm called "the purpose lab," is famous on the block for allowing neighbors' parcels to be stored in his place for safe keeping.

"Everybody on the block has been so nice since this happened," said Joe Sergi, 58, a safety-equipment salesman.

He and his wife stayed in their house Sunday night without heat or water, using space heaters and extra blankets to stay warm.

But, he added, "it may be too cold to stay again tonight."

DiGiulio said it could be several days before the sewer pipe and water main can be fixed, and water service restored. And only then can the gas be turned back on.

alubrano@phillynews.com

215-854-4969

@AlfredLubrano

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