Sinkhole swallows eight cars at Corvette Museum

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WDRB) -- A sinkhole under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green swallowed eight cars early Wednesday.

The surveillance video from the Skydome section of the museum shows peace and quiet -- and nothing moving at 5:38 Wednesday morning.

Suddenly, the floor gives out.

Eight corvettes, from the 1960s to the previous decade, that were inside the Skydome area were swallowed up by the sinkhole, including the one-millionth Corvette made.

Two of the cars were on loan from General Motors.

"Those cars were our babies and it's upsetting to have anything like this happen,"said Katie Frassinelli, marketing and communication manager for the museum.

Engineers say the sinkhole is 60 to 70 feet in diameter and 40 to 50 feet deep.

Further video from the museum and Western Kentucky University engineers offers an inside look to the sinkhole.

"It's devastating to look at these beautiful cars. They're covered in dirt and rocks but it's incredible though looking at it and seeing how this happened," said WKU mechanical engineering student Darren Tinker.

The museum is consulting with engineers on what to do next.

"Structure at the bottom they feel is secure, the concern is still what's going on in the sinkhole that's real close to the center," said Wendell Strode, executive director of the National Corvette Museum.

Strode could not say how much the damaged cars were worth -- but to fiercely loyal Corvette followers, they might be considered priceless, and a part of automotive history. Museum visitor Don Schwartz says what happened has been a shock for the Corvette community.

"They're history of Corvette is what's out there," Schwartz said about the cars inside the Skydome.

Tom Rockaway, an associate professor at U of L, who has a background in geotechnical engineering, says that sinkholes are common in Kentucky.

"Kentucky has a lot of limestone bedrock materials, and they are highly salable in water, and over time the water will flow through fissures and cracks," Rockaway said.

Rockaway says this can lead to soil eroding, which can lead to a sinkhole.

He says before structures are built, engineers do assess the area, but sometimes they do not find all the cracks and slivers where water can percolate through the bedrock materials.

While tourists were only allowed into the lobby area on Wednesday, testing continues to determine whether the Skydome structure and other remaining cars inside are safe.

It's too soon to say whether they'll be able to repair the sinkhole, or if that particular exhibit area will need to be moved.

"We have about a 55 acre campus here, so we do have plenty of room to do other things if need-be," Strode said.

The museum released a list on its website Wednesday listing the eight cars affected:

1993 ZR-1 Spyder (on loan from General Motors)

2009 ZR1 "Blue Devil" (on loan from General Motors)

1962 Black Corvette

1984 PPG Pace Car

1992 White 1 Millionth Corvette

1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette

2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette

2009 White 1.5 Millionth Corvette

The museum says authorities allowed workers to remove the 1984 PPG Pace Car from the mess.

Strode says another 25 cars were in the Skydome but not dragged into the hole; they were removed throughout the day.

The museum will remain open Thursday, but the Skydome will be closed.

In August, thousands of Corvette enthusiasts are expected to visit the museum for its 20th anniversary.

No injuries were reported in the incident.

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