St Albans sinkhole: First anniversary of the 12m-wide cavity, with four homes still evacuated

The first anniversary of St Albans' sinkhole is on October 1 2016. There is now little trace of the

The first anniversary of St Albans' sinkhole is on October 1 2016. There is now little trace of the cavity. Photo taken in September 2016, by CloudVisual - Credit: CloudVisual

With the first anniversary of the road collapse today, October 1, the Herts Advertiser visited residents living near the sinkhole, to find out how they have coped, and what they recalled of that momentous day.

It was the day that the road dramatically caved in, crumbling deep in to the ground, where once there was a clay pit and shaft used to supply St Albans’ historic brick-making industry.

October 1, 2015, is forever etched into the memories of residents of two quiet cul de sacs in St Albans.

In the very early hours of that day, a sinkhole appeared in the carriageway of Fontmell Close, off Seymour Road. The 12 metre (39 feet) wide cavity was later determined to be 603 cubic metres volume-wise; the equivalent of more than four double-decker buses.

There was a flurry of action as stunned residents were later evacuated to safety, and the media, council officials, utility companies and emergency services converged upon the scene, cordoning off Fontmell and Bridle Closes.

One year along, locals still speak of the confusion and the drama of October 1, when their small street hit headlines around the world.

Some spoke of near misses, as they had driven over the very spot of what would later turn into a gaping hole, hours or - even scarier - minutes before its appearance.

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Residents and council officials have spoken since then of their relief, as by sheer good luck no one was injured or killed.

But one man was less than impressed with the media cluttering up the cordoned off area with inquisitive journalists, cameramen and photographers vying to obtain the perfect shot.

John Oakey, of Seymour Road, recalled: “All I remember is a bunch of idiots trying to look into the hole with their cameras. Some asked me if they could go round the back of our house, to look at the hole - it was a whacking great hole. But you couldn’t see into it unless you were standing right by it.

“We were woken up at about 3am, and I saw the police cars. I wasn’t surprised about the sinkhole, as I used to have a drink with the man who designed Fontmell Close, about 50 years ago.”

With the collapse presenting an immediate threat to nearby residents, they were initially evacuated to safety to Batchwood Hall, and on to local hotels, or to stay with friends and family.

Meanwhile, Herts county council organised bulk backfilling, and 535 cubic metres of foam concrete was immediately pumped by truck to plug most of the sinkhole. Temporary utility services were later provided, to enable residents to return to their homes.

Since then there have been multiple surveys by independent consultants, which have backed local residents’ recollections of there being a deep backfilled historic clay pit beneath the site of the cavity. Also, a shaft had been dug to create an entrance into a ‘bell’ shaped mine to extract chalk.

Initial fears that a bigger sinkhole was looming beneath the surface nearby were quashed.

One year later, four families remain evacuated, but utility companies have begun permanent restoration of services, with hopes that remedial works, including the final capping of the void will be complete by Christmas.