100-Year-Old Mine May Have Caused 40-Foot Sinkhole That Swallowed Front Yard

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A man in southwest Des Moines woke up in the middle of the night to find his 35-foot tree had literally been swallowed up.

The homeowner at 4103 SW 5th St. was awakened by neighbors who noticed the sinkhole around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday when it began swallowing a hedge.  About seven hours later, the hole had expanded dramatically, consuming the 35-foot tree.

Sinkholes are often attributed to sewer lines breaking, but officials believe it was caused by an old mine shaft more than 100 years old.

Sinkhole in south side yard. (WHO-HD)

Sinkhole in Des Moines  (WHO-HD)

“That neighborhood is covered by 223 acres of abandoned underground coal mines, and one of the maps showed a mine shaft near the residence. That’s the most likely cause of this particular sinkhole,” said Des Moines Public Works Director Jonathan Gano.

Gano said once the city received the call, they sent crews out to investigate. The homeowner told officials it started with the bushes falling in and eventually his entire tree disappeared.

Neighbors quickly came to check out the scene, some unaware mine shafts were under their homes and couldn't believe just how massive the sinkhole is.

“I’m looking in the road for a hole and there is not one there. And I’m thinking what is the deal? When I looked over in the yard and saw that hole, I just couldn’t believe it. I was just stunned,” said neighbor Tom Spencer, who has lived in the neighborhood for 45 years.

Gano said this hole is a shared responsibility between the homeowner and the city, but there’s no word how much this will all cost to fix.

The first step is getting this massive tree out. A company has been hired to bring in a crane to try and get this tree out, which is scheduled for Thursday.

By Wednesday afternoon, the hole was about 40 feet deep and is still expanding. The area around the sinkhole has been cordoned off.

Southwest 5th Street has been blocked off in the area.

In June 2013, a sinkhole opened up in Runnells on West McKinney Street. The Mayor said he had a sinkhole in his yard too that was about 20-feet wide.  A network of underground coal mines can also be found in Runnells.

You can find out more about abandoned coal mines in the Des Moines area here.

Take a tour inside the sinkhole in the video below: