BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (USA TODAY) - A sinkhole formed Wednesday under the National Corvette Museum, swallowing eight cars, according to its executive director.
Some time before 5:30 a.m. CT, the sinkhole started to form, authorities believe. By 5:39 a.m. power in the museum went off and police were called, Executive Director Wendell Strode said. The incident originally was thought to be a fire.
When emergency personnel got to the museum, they discovered a sinkhole 40 feet wide and 25 to 30 feet deep, Strode said.
"It's pretty significant," he said.
The museum issued a statement that said six of the damaged cars were owned by the museum and two - a 1993 ZR-1 Spyder and a 2009 ZR1 Blue Devil - were on loan from General Motors.
The other cars damaged were a 1962 black Corvette, a 1984 PPG Pace Car, a 1992 White 1 Millionth Corvette, a 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Corvette, a 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette and a 2009 white 1.5 Millionth Corvette, the museum said.
The museum is about a mile from the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant where the car is built.
Butch Hume, president of Louisville's Falls City Corvette Club, cringed when he heard which cars were involved.
"I was stunned," he said. "That just doesn't happen in Kentucky and what a terrible place for it to happen."
When news of the sink hole started to spread, club members inundated Hume's phone with text messages. They all wanted to know what happened, he said.
"I think anybody who has a Corvette was stunned when they heard that," he said. "Are you kidding me?"
"We're all feeling the same way," he said. "Oh man, that's a shame."
Emergency personnel allowed museum staff to remove one car, an irreplaceable 1983 Corvette which was not in the sink hole, Strode said.
Andrea Hales, communications manager at the Bowling Green Corvette plant said there were no 1983 Corvette production models and the only surviving prototype was on display at the museum. She added that the sinkhole had no effect on the nearby plant.
Within hours, Corvette aficionados started to offer assistance. Chuck McMurray, with Tamraz's Auto Parts in Plainfield, Ill., said his company is ready to jump in and help the museum find any original parts that might be needed to restore the damaged cars.
Calling the Corvette part of "American history," McMurray said his company is ready to help. "We have a warehouse full of really weird stuff that we've acquired over the last 50 years," he said.
Engineers at the scene are assessing the situation at the museum, said Jason Polk, a professor of geology and geography at Western Kentucky University. Polk is part of the team investigating the cause and extent of the sinkhole at the museum Wednesday.
The Bowling Green-area geology lends itself to sinkholes and they are not at all uncommon, Polk said. The cause of the sink hole at the Corvette Museum has not been determined, but oftentimes this kind of hole is caused by underground caves that expand over time until the surface gives way, he said.
"Eventually, the soil can't hold it," he said.
There is no telling how long it will take to determine whether any major structural damage occurred when the sink hole opened up but everyone at the scene is working hard to make sure the building is safe and "figure out a plan to get the cars out," Polk said.
The safety of the people working on the situation at the museum trumps any car that might be in danger, Strode said.
"Before we do anything, like remove the other cars, we want that assessment so we know if there's been any structural damage to the Sky Dome," he said.
At this point, it does not look like any other potential sink holes are threatening the rest of the museum, Polk said.
The museum will be open Wednesday but the Sky Dome will be off limits, he said.
"We'll try to get back to business as usual as soon as we can and keep moving forward," he said.
A monetary estimate of damage done to the museum and the vehicles involved had not been determined early Wednesday.
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