2014 top stories: No. 2 — Sinkhole swallows museum’s Corvettes

Workers being extraction process from the sinkhole | National Corvette Museum photos
Workers being extraction process from the sinkhole | National Corvette Museum photos

At 5:44 a.m. on the morning of February 12, 2014, officials at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, were alerted by the museum’s security company that motion detectors had triggered an alarm within the Skydome, a cone-shaped structure that housed the Corvette Hall of Fame plaques as well as an array of historic Chevrolet sports cars.

Video captured by security cameras showed what had happened: In real-time footage that almost appeared to have been filmed in slow motion, a huge sinkhole had opened beneath the dome and had swallowed eight cars.

Fortunately, no people were in the building at that hour of the morning so no one was injured. But eight cars had all but disappeared into an abyss of rock and rubble.

Devastating damage
Devastating damage

The event was among the most disastrous ever to strike the classic car community, but the way the museum handled the situation stands as a text-book example of how to respond to such a situation, and became not only as a public-relations and fund-raising coup for the museum, but led to breakthroughs for scientists who study such geologic phenomena.

Where many organizations try to hide the extent of such an event, the National Corvette Museum was forthcoming about the situation from the start, and not only about the extent of the damage but about its plans — and changes to those plans — for retrieving the cars, for restoring the cars, and for repairing the damage beneath the dome.

Once the ground beneath the Skydome was stabilized, the work began to (a) find and (b) to extract the eight cars from their burials.

Within a month of the collapse, five of the cars not only had been recovered but were put back on display so museum visitors could see the damage for themselves. By early April, all eight cars were back above ground and were being accessed for whether they could be restored.

Plans also were being made to restore the Skydome floor and its subterranean support, but so many people were coming to museum – which actually set up a viewing area within the ‘dome so visitors could see the sinkhole – that it was decided to delay those repairs until after the museum’s 20th anniversary celebration in the fall of 2014.

From the morning of the sinkhole’s appearance, scientists from nearby Western Kentucky University had been involved in the entire process, and they were able to go into and to explore the extent of the sinkhole, and in doing so were able to prove the viability of new equipment and technologies they had developed, equipment and technologies that can discover such gaps beneath the ground before they open and cause damage.

Several of the cars are being restored. Others will remain in the damaged condition as when they were retrieved. The repair work within the Skydome is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2015.

 

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