Early in the morning on Oct. 28, a sinkhole opened up in downtown Pittsburgh and engulfed the back end of a Port Authority Bus. Ten days later, on Nov. 8, three Norfolk Southern trains were involved in a derailment in Hempfield.
The Port Authority bus driver was not injured, and the sole passenger on the bus suffered only minor injuries. The bus took a while to be removed, resulting in surprise from locals.
“I was surprised at the size of the hole and how much the bus was actually tilted into it,” said Point Park University student Mikayla Fruehstorfer. “My roommates and I all walked down to see it in person, because when’s the next time you might see a bus in a hole?”
No injuries were reported from the train derailment.
According to the Associated Press, 11 train cars derailed about three miles from downtown Greensburg, near the Georges Station Road bridge.
The Associated Press also reported that Norfolk Southern said one train that was traveling west hit the caboose of an eastbound train. The rail cars were carrying about 50 shipping containers, as well as passengers between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Soon after the incidents, memes and jokes reached social media. Local artists and businesses have also jumped on the trend, creating t-shirts, posters, and other souvenirs. Oakmont Bakery even featured a cupcake themed around the sinking bus. Others have created memes that poke fun at the proximity of the two accidents.
The sinkhole downtown is another example of the trend of sinkholes in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, a massive sinkhole opened up next to Route 30 near the Pitt-Greensburg exit. According to CBS Pittsburgh, this hole was discovered before it fully collapsed, and was originally assumed to be a small problem.
However, as crews began to excavate the area, they quickly discovered the massive size of the hole and the structural damage it was causing to the highway and nearby hillside. Crews are still working to repair this sinkhole.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the most common cause of sinkholes in southwestern Pennsylvania is mine subsidence.
Mine subsidence occurs when underground mine shafts begin to shift and collapse. This shifting affects the ground above it, sometimes causing a pocket of air. When this pocket of air finally collapses, a sinkhole is formed.
According to the DCNR website, about 7 percent of Pennsylvania land is vulnerable to sinkholes due to mine collapses. A map published by the Department of Environmental Protection indicates that the entire City of Greensburg, the majority of the City of Latrobe, the majority of Pittsburgh’s South Side, and parts of downtown Pittsburgh are built on top of old mine shafts.
Sudden sinkholes aren’t the only danger that mine shafts pose to infrastructure. The collapse of a mine can also cause the ground above it to shift and move slowly. This changes the surface level landscape enough to cause major structural damage to homes and infrastructure.
According to Jeff Himler, a reporter for the Tribune Review, Latrobe resident Carole Mullen woke up one morning to find that all of her doors and windows were unusable. Firefighters had to rescue her from her home.
Mullen later discovered that shifting mines below her house had caused her house to bend and twist. Within a few weeks, her house was announced to be condemned.
If your property is above a mineshaft, the state recommends insuring your property for possible mine subsidence. You can check the map of recorded mine shafts in Pennsylvania by visiting http://www.depgis.state.pa.us/.