U.S.

Massive Sinkhole Swallows Side of Georgia Food Store but Authorities Say Owner Is Partly to Blame

A vacant gas station and food store in Georgia is being swallowed by a massive sinkhole—but city authorities claim the owner was well warned of the collapse.

The destruction caused to Wee-Willy's Food Store in Buford, in Gwinnett County, can be seen in photos uploaded to social media. Facebook user Justin Dean noted this week that some shelves at the store still appeared to hold items—despite one side of the building being totally gone.

Related: Woman swallowed by giant sinkhole as she strolls down sidewalk

Fire and Emergency Services Captain Tommy Rutledge told Newsweek that Gwinnett County officials responded to the location on May 30 last year. At the time, firefighters found "partial collapse of the structure" and turned the situation over to the city of Buford.

“Firefighters responded to the location again on December 30, 2018, after receiving another call about damage to the building. Firefighters at that time discovered further collapse of a section of the building from the damage that was previously found back in May,” Rutledge said.

In December, firefighters “determined no life safety hazard existed,” because the building was vacant. Rutledge said, “The crew secured the area with scene tape and notified the City. There has been no response back to the location by the Fire Department since December 30.”

Sinkhole Georgia A vacant gas station and food store in Georgia is being swallowed by a massive sinkhole—but city authorities claim the owner was well warned of the collapse. Justin Dean/Facebook

Last May, after the initial discovery of the sinkhole, building owner Irfanali Momin was ordered by city officials to make plans to repair or tear down the structure. Neither happened, reported The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, citing city spokesman Bryan Kerlin.

Local media outlets reported that officials ruled Momin had to submit his plans by January 8, but the relevant paperwork was never sent.

City of Buford officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NBC-affiliated news outlet WXIA-TV reported the sinkhole was made worse by heavy rainfall in the region. It reported “large portions of the ground” opened up last Thursday. In one video uploaded on January 4, a stream of murky water can be seen running under the building.

WXIA-TV reported Momin had already received two violations from the city and is likely to be hit with more. Momin is expected to next appear in court on January 18, the news outlet reported.

A natural and often dangerous phenomenon, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) describes a sinkhole as “a depression in the ground that has no natural external surface drainage.”

The U.S. government agency explains: “When water moves down through the soil, these types of rock begin to dissolve. This creates underground spaces and caverns. Sinkholes are dramatic because the land usually stays intact for a period of time until the underground spaces just get too big. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces, then a sudden collapse of the land can occur.”

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