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Watch your step: Another 'mine' sinkhole pops up on east side of Du Quoin

  • Smith Avenue between North Vine and Grafway streets. The sinkhole was about 8 feet across and 14 feet deep.

    Smith Avenue between North Vine and Grafway streets. The sinkhole was about 8 feet across and 14 feet deep.
    Courtesy of the City of Du Quoin/Facebook

By Renee Trappe
updated: 2/29/2020 7:32 PM

Doug Hill got called out to Smith Avenue last Wednesday night, when Du Quoin police saw a suspicious dip in the pavement.

Hill, Du Quoin's streets superintendent, knew a sinkhole when he saw one. He left and quickly returned with a laborer and a backhoe.

"All I did was touch it," with the backhoe and it fell right in, he said. Eight feet across and 14-feet deep, Hill was just glad no one had driven over it or they would have had a nasty surprise.

Smith Avenue between North Vine and Grafway streets was closed to traffic until Friday. The city's water department came in to fix the sewer line, which collapsed until the weight of the debris. Then crews poured 35 yards of concrete into the hole.

Using dirt and debris from the hole, Hill built up a wall around the hole to discourage accidents and curiosity seekers.

The Smith Avenue sinkhole was a "mine" sinkhole, meaning an abandoned coal shaft was below the ground.

The east side of Du Quoin is full of little abandoned mines, Hill said, mines that were dug -- not by big mining companies -- but by individuals or families who owned plots of land, and wanted to reach the coal seams not far below the surface.

"Sinkholes are common over there," Hill said, who said they might have a couple a year -- or more, depending on rainfall. "There's nothing you can do."

He said vehicles have tipped into the holes, although no one has been seriously injured.

This particular mine shaft on Smith Avenue was dug in 1940, according to Greg Tanner, an engineer with the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Division of the Mines and Minerals section of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"That whole area is undermined," Tanner said, adding there are areas to the south of Du Quoin that have been mined too.

What made it attractive for mining is that the coal in the area is shallow, in some places less than 50 feet below the surface, Tanner said. When coal is less than 180 feet deep you have the potential for a pit to open, he added.

These sinkholes don't come in standard sizes, he said.

"I have one now in Carterville that's 25 feet across and 15 feet deep," he said.

He said the individual miners used the "room and pillar" style of removing the coal. Basically, ore is dug out horizontally, creating "rooms," while the pillars are piles of untouched material that support the mine roof.

Hill said east side residents need to stay vigilant, and if they see a developing sinkhole to contact police or the city and stay away from it.

Tanner added people should be aware of their surroundings and your property and make sure their subsidence (sub SI dence) insurance is up to date.

Just because you have settlement doesn't mean you have a sinkhole, Tanner added.

• To look at maps of mine locations in southern Illinois, check out the website of the Illinois State Geological Survey.