Sinkhole swallows part of Exeter Commons parking lot

Contractor fears 15-foot deep, 20-foot wide hole may grow

Sinkhole swallows part of shopping center parking lot

EXETER TWP., Pa. - A massive sinkhole swallowed part of a shopping center parking lot after drenching rains left their mark across the region.

The sinkhole opened up overnight in the Exeter Commons shopping center in Exeter Township, Berks County. Several parking spots caved in, but luckily no cars were damaged.

"I didn't know if it was going to keep caving in or if this was it," said Max Raith, who almost drove his Jeep into the massive hole.

Raith was on his way to work at Moe's Southwest Grill at 6 a.m. Thursday. He first thought it was a puddle, but quickly realized a sinkhole swallowed part of the parking lot.

Images: Shopping center sinkhole

"I just put my Jeep there with the 4-ways on so nobody else would run into it," said Raith, who called the township.

An engineer and contractor were called to the scene. Barricades have been set up and officials have asked everyone to avoid the area of the parking lot in front of Moe's Southwest Grill because they fear it could grow and give way at any moment.

"We want to make sure we don't drop any cars or any customers and we want to keep everybody as safe as possible," said Don Hoover, the contractor called in from Lancaster County.

The wild weather has wreaked havoc across the area. The Schuylkill River spilled over its banks at Riverfront Park in Pottstown, Montgomery County. The boat docks were under water at Blue Marsh Lake in Lower Heidelberg Township, and all recreation facilities are closed due to unsafe conditions. The water level rose 4.5 feet from the heavy rain.

"There's a lot of objects you can't normally view so there's more objects in the lake and just the simple thing you can't even see our boat ramps to back your boat down," said John Cave, park manager at Blue Marsh.

Safety is on everyone's mind, and officials in Exeter Township said the sinkhole gave way at the right time.

"If it would have opened during the day with customers here we would be covering a different story here," said Hoover.

The work to repair the sinkhole is set to begin Monday, officials said.

Exeter Commons has a history of problems with sinkholes. A larger hole opened in the summer of 2010 on the western end of the parking lot, in front of the Lowe's store.

The shopping center opened in 2009.

Images: Shopping center sinkhole

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