A sinkhole split open in a familiar area of 15 Mile Road today in Fraser, partially collapsing a home,
endangering other structures and forcing the closure of the road in both directions between Hayes
and Utica, police said. Robert Allen/Detroit Free Press
FRASER, Mich. — Sue Albu and her husband awoke to sounds of popping at about 4 a.m. ET Christmas Eve.
They could tell something was off.
Two hours later, she had trouble opening the doors in her house. Its frame had begun to shift.
Albu called the police. Her home was sinking into the ground.
“I mean, it was just trying to grab what we could to salvage it,” Albu said.
Her daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Aaron Marentette of Shelby Township, Mich., also were staying there, intending to spend Christmas with family.
Albu’s house, on the corner of 15 Mile Road and Eberlein Drive, remains partially collapsed Sunday, sinking in an arc inch by inch, its brick walls buckling and roofline bending. The sinkhole is endangering other structures and forced the closure of the 15 Mile Road in both directions, but those closest to 15 Mile are worse off.
The sinkhole opened right at the entrance to the street. A neighbor across Eberlein has a collapsed driveway.
Homeowners on Albu’s street quickly evacuated, taking their Christmas celebrations elsewhere while authorities cut power for several hours to almost 900 electric customers to allow electrical services to be rerouted around the affected area.
Though his in-laws have filed an insurance claim, Marentette said they don’t know how much of their losses will be covered. Even then, the money can’t replace the family photos and memories still trapped inside.
He set up a GoFundMe account to help out his in-laws, and as of mid-afternoon on Christmas Day, it had raised about $3,500.
Albu has lived in their three-bedroom, 2½-bath home since 1999, long enough to see another massive sinkhole that opened up on 15 Mile in August 2004. Still, it did not seem as if a second sinkhole could affect the area, she said.
“There were no indications that this could happen,” Albu said. Then she watched her home crumble Saturday.
Albu and her husband bought the 1,800-square-foot home $207,500, and it was estimated to be worth about $250,000 in 2016, according to Zillow. It was built in 1998 on a little more than a quarter acre lot.
Two neighboring homes also were ordered to be evacuated.
The source of the problem appears to have begun 55 feet underground with a crumbling 11-foot-wide sewer line, said Lt. Mike Pettyes of the Fraser Public Safety Department. If the line has broken, effluent is washing away soil and creating a void that can’t hold the dirt above it.
Authorities continue to say they don’t know how large the sinkhole could be. They don’t know how long they need to stabilize the area, he said.
“We’re kind of in sit-around-and-wait (mode),” Pettyes said. “A lot of people are convinced that it’s just a matter of time — and it’s not if the house is going to come crumbling down, it’s when.”
The city first received a call about Albu’s home just before 6:30 a.m. Christmas Eve, and DTE Energy, the area’s electric and natural gas utility, was dispatched to the sinkhole about 12:20 p.m. the same day.
“The whole street of Eberlein is shut off as we work on making sure there are stable conditions,” Alex Pirkovic, a field operations manager for Macomb County Public Works, said Sunday. Electric poles, some tilting, lined the area and could fall if the sinkhole were to expand.
Jacob Nadolsky was only 5 when another massive sinkhole erupted in his neighborhood in August 2004, but he remembers the stench rising from the collapsed sewer line that caused it. He stood near the fence at the corner of Albu’s home Sunday, taking in the new damage.
On Saturday, several people watched the spectacle of emergency vehicles from the nearby Green Lantern pizzeria, where Albu said many took refuge while waiting to return to their homes. Paige Toerper, a waitress there, said she and others are scared for the residents affected.
A different restaurant was at the pizzeria’s location the last time a sinkhole closed 15 Mile Road, and she had been told it lost business during the 10 months needed to repair the road.
“I just hope this gets fixed, the families find somewhere safe to go, and that our business isn’t affected,because it’s a really good business to work for,” Toerper said.
Meanwhile, Albu, her husband and her dog have been spending Christmas Day at her daughter’s home. She said she still has so many unanswered questions.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” she said.