Home(less) for the holiday

By on November 22, 2016
Photo by Patrick Burns. Workers excavating an area near the sinkhole, which took out the West Pine and Park Avenue intersection, stretched to 60 feet wide by 100 feet long.

Displaced residents remain homeless two weeks after a giant sinkhole opened at the West Pine Street and Park Avenue intersection.

Hope Roten, spokeswoman for the Red Cross Central Pennsylvania region, confirmed the organization helped with assistance for 13 adults and one child. The Red Cross offered gift cards to the displaced residents who stayed at motels in the Denver area.

Roten said the Red Cross immediately provided food, clothing, and shelter for the residents and is now doing follow-up case work which includes “advice and guidance.”

Ephrata Social Services has stepped in to assist some of the residents now that the allotment of Red Cross funds, provided through $500 debit cards used for motel rent, have run out.

The neighbors were among 19 people displaced when a sinkhole on West Pine Street opened before 5 a.m., Nov. 8. Digging borough workers found a broken storm drain pipe the next day.

The hole, which initially continued to widen, threatened two apartment buildings — an eight-unit structure and four-unit building, one on Pine Street and the other on Park Avenue.

The 20footdeep hole was about 45 feet long before excavators began digging out around it. Workers excavating the area, which took out the intersection, stretched the cavity to 60 feet wide by 100 feet long.

Residents were allowed to return to live in their apartments in the four-unit building dwellings at 226 W. Pine St. on Nov. 11, but 13 residents from the eight-unit building are still homeless as of the Ephrata Review’s print time on Tuesday, Nov. 22.Ephrata Police Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator William Harvey, who’s been handling communication about the sinkhole incident, had expected geotechnical testing to be completed on Monday to allow residents a better idea of when they might be able to return to their homes.

But there was little new information available on Monday, Harvey said.

There is “no real update today — utilities are being restored,” Harvey wrote in an email on Monday.

Harvey said the geotechnical testing was completed and “the geologists are analyzing the results for solutions (or) remedies I am told, we should know more soon.”

Asked if the tests would determine if the apartment building will be salvaged, Harvey said “Recommendations from the experts and staff after the analysis of the tests are competed should offer insights then.”

Harvey did confirm that a borough employee who fell into a ditch line Sunday “had to have surgery and is recovering.”

But some displaced residents, such as Jack Farnquist, are upset by the lack of information disseminated.

Farnquist, who is living with his daughter in Denver and has not received assistance, learned almost everything he owns was damaged or destroyed when a backed-up septic system flooded his empty apartment.

A man who would only identify himself as ‘Jay’ from Hauenstein Agency, which manages the apartment buildings, refused to comment on the situation.

“I can’t talk about anything on tenant matters that we deal with; that is all privacy protected,” he said. “Any information you want to find about the residents, the building or the sinkhole you’ll have to get through the police chief or the Borough of Ephrata.”

Still, Chief Harvey said he couldn’t speak for the Hauenstein Agency “as to their interaction between them and their tenants.”

“In their defense (though) there are still several unknowns which they don’t know,” Harvey said. “It would be presumptuous to offer bad timelines and hopes.”Farnquist said that is unacceptable.

“I’m homeless and pretty much have lost everything and nobody can give me an answer,” he said. “My furniture is ruined, the rugs have been cut out and they won’t let me in to even take pictures. I don’t even know if I’m getting my rent check money back or what to do about my electric bill.”

Harvey said he had no answer yet whether Farnquist would receive compensation for his property damaged by the faulty septic system installed by the borough to temporarily provide service to residents in the adjacent building.

Farnquist said his insurance company said he is not covered because he doesn’t have sinkhole insurance.

A local attorney asked about the situation said Ephrata Borough has in the past claimed “governmental immunity” which protects it from liability. The immunity states individuals could not recover damages from state or local governmental units for injuries resulting from the actions of a government employee or officer in the performance of a governmental function.

Farnquist, who said he’ll not return to his apartment, said the Red Cross and Ephrata Social Services had approached him about providing clothing and food, but could not help him with any funding until he found a new place to live.

Tom Swalwell, Ephrata Social Services, said his organization’s board has authorized two weeks’ worth of living assistance for four residents displaced from two apartments located at 241 to 247 Park Ave. The other displaced residents have found shelter with relatives or friends, he said.

He said since ESS has helped those residents it seems only fair to help a bit to assist Farnquist in obtaining new furniture.

“(Farnquist) was wondering what recourse he had,” Swalwell said. “But we’re really not in position to advise people in these kinds of situations. But I offered him our food bank and our clothing bank and a little bit of assistance whenever he moved into a new place for furniture. But not a lot, $300 or something.”

  • Traffic continues to be detoured around West Chestnut Street to avoid the fenced-in sinkhole area at the West Pine Street and Park Avenue intersection.
  • The sinkhole created water main break which leaked 300,000 gallons of water and nearly damaged a gas line. UGI Utilities rerouted a natural gas line.
  • Officials said the repair cost will be more than $100,000 and that the borough will tap into a $4 million reserve fund.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 7214455

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