Thursday, August 31, 2006

And today's lesson is...

sink holes!

Actually, we've covered science, health and safety, gravity, water, water treatment/mains systems, community policing... how? I hear you ask?! (and if not, I'm going to tell you anyway - apologies in advance for any ranting...)

At 1am this morning when Roarke came home from work he noticed that our drive was full of water - which he traced to water spurting out from a hole in the ground on the grass verge alongside our house. He phoned the emergency line for the water board and reported it.

At 3am they drove up, looked at it, and drove off again (there was at that time only a trickle).

At 8am the trickle suddenly became a flood. Water began bubbling up fast and taking the line of least resistence, heading into our (sloping) driveway.

By 9am the water was 4 inches deep down the side of our house, and swirling around the back door. Mum and I were sweeping water furiously down onto the garden - but we were fighting a loosing battle.

We rang the water board again. They assured us someone would be out - "as it is an emergency, you will definately get seen today" - well that's alright then, at least I wouldn't need to sweep water ALL day...

By 9.30am the water increased further. Roarke began digging out a trench to take the water away from our fence and towards the slope of the green that ran off eventually to the road - where we knew there was a surface drain.

I began putting sods of earth alongside our fence, and sweeping the now pooling water away, and towards the hole so that it would hopefully flow down the trench.

Then - disaster.

The ground gave way underneath me and I fell 4 and a half foot down into a huge hole that opened up around the original hole. I tried to claw my way out, only for more of the sides to collapse and I fell back in. I sank down to my neck in the freezing, muddy water before Roarke reached me and grabbed my arm, pulling me out.

I truly would have drowned if he had not have caught me - there was no way to claw oneself out and the size/type of hole would have made treading water hard - plus I was in shock and not a strong swimmer so no "instinct" to take over.

Even now, typing the words, I am shaking again.

I was absolutely shocked - both by the experience and by the freezing water. Looking back we could see that huge areas of ground were now beginning to sink around the hole.

The pictures really don't do it justice. I'm holding a spade into the hole and you can see it came up to the handle. In fact it was deeper than that (I just didn't dare let go of the spade!)

We rang the water board again - Mum yelling at them down the phone.

We couldn't leave the site - the area is always used as a cutting corner by pedestrians and any child wandering up to examine this exciting hole, would have sunk right in, as I had done.

In the end we called the police. A fabulous Community Policeman walked all the way from his beat in Orpington Town Centre, at high speed, to come to our aid. He was concerned that I should go to hospital but I really didn't feel up to it (sounds daft saying it that way, but I hope you'll know what I mean!).

He asked us to stay to help guard the area as they were too short staffed to send anyone else. By now the water on the road was causing a problem too, and the CP had to help pedestrians off the bus to get through the water that was torrenting over the pavement making it very difficult - and unpleasant - to get through.

A passing water meter reader stopped and was horrified at what he saw. He rang his boss who was in a meeting but promised to come as soon as he can. This inspector made it round about half an hour later.

By this time it was around 11.

He identified the area to be shut off and duly boxed off the part of the main that had burst. He then organised cones around the area and we were finally able to go in (though the CP, to give him his due, stayed longer until the water had dried from the pavements).

Some time around 3 oclock in the afternoon the water board finally came to dig down to the pipe and fix a sleeve around it, so that the mains could be turned back on. There is now a huge hole - some 10 foot square and 6 foot deep to be filled in. You can see from this photo, taken from an upstairs window, just how close the fence the hole is!

Like I saw the pictures don't do it justice - the hole extends far wider at the sides than the top of it that is showing.

In the midst of all this, bizzarely, I ended up giving an interview to BBC Kent on Kent bloggers! (*waves* to Robert if he's reading!). I'll post the link up here when the interview is live! By the way, in the course of preparing for his questions, I found out that since I started blogging, my blog has been viewed by 5,377 people! Thank you!

Still, we never lost sight of the learning opportunities... we showed the boys erosion in action, how to build a dam, how to dig a stream, how water follows the line of least resistance. As the water level dropped when the mains was shut, I started to explain to the boys what would happen now that the gaps between the soil particles was no longer full of water - but full of air - and at that point another section of the side conveniently collapsed (taking a cone with it!) to prove my point.

The water man also let the boys listen to the leak through his special listening rod, and showed them the plans on his laptop of the water main, and talked them through what he was doing.

In the afternoon we staggered over to a friends house for some much needed relaxation - thank you Annette for a lovely, lovely afternoon of good company which was just what I needed!

I find it incredible though that despite all our phone calls, Thames Water did not respond. If it hadn't of been for the passing meter man calling his boss out personally, I dread to think how long it would have taken them to arrive.

I have nothing but contempt for the company, I'm afraid, having watched (and dipped!) in all that wasted, precious water from yet another leak.

I have nothing but praise for the local meter man and his boss who responded so quickly - and despite their company rather than because of it.

I also was exceedingly impressed with the Community Policeman - many of whom I know get a lot of stick and ridicule - for an extremely impressive job. My Dad, as an ex-copper, would have been proud of him (to the point that the guy even thought to remove his cap when a funeral car passed by - truly a conscientious man). If I can find his full name, I'll publish it here, and we will also be writing to Orpington Police Station to commend him.

Now, where is that bottle of sherry....


Deb said...

ARGH! Scary!

IndigoShirl said...

Cheers..... you need it!

Lady Liberty said...

We are glad you are ok.
Maybe next time you shouldn't write ordinary day, because the next one was more than that.

Unshelled said...

Glad everything turned out ok, can remember falling into one of those as a child. Reading your experience had me shaking and shivering all over again.

Freya's Staff said...

I'm afraid that sounds like SUCH FUN! (in an engineering sort of way) I'd have been round like a shot! :-)