Families in a hole as the earth opens up

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The Independent Online
A hole in the ground big enough to swallow a house developed overnight in Ripon, North Yorkshire, forcing at least five families to leave their homes. The hole, thought to be a naturally occurring cavern, opened up minutes after two children who had been playing on the site were called in by their mother. It grew bigger overnight and a nearby house garage fell into the chasm, which was filled with water.

Jane Sherwood-Britton,whose pounds 95,000 house in Ure Bank Terrace faces the hole, said she had lost everything. "Our house is not safe to live in and it's now worthless. The hole appeared at about 7pm just as I called my children in. We called the emergency services and we were told to evacuate, but I stayed overnight. I just didn't want to leave my home.

"At 2am I heard a loud whirring noise, water shot up into the air and the garage slipped into the hole. It was like a whirlpool."

Mrs Shepherd-Britton is staying with friends nearby and is taking legal advice.

A spokesman for Harrogate council said officials were investigating the cause of the sudden appearance of the hole. They believe it could be a geological fault involving gypsum, which is dissolved by water and can cause sudden collapse, especially if found close to the surface of the ground. John Kirkman, chief building control officer for the council, said: "People have been instructed to move out of their homes in the interests of their own safety. We are monitoring the situation and until insurance engineers and independent engineers can assess the level of danger they cannot move back in." Gas and electric companies were on standby to switch off supplies to the street at a moment's notice and police have sealed off the area.