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18-foot sinkhole opens up in Long Beach backyard

September 2, 2010 | 11:11 am


The sudden appearance of an 18-foot-deep sinkhole in the backyard of a Long Beach home has created a stir in the quiet neighborhood--and frustration for the homeowner.

John Steube, 39, said the hole was discovered about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, when he let his dog Snow out of the house in the 100 block of East 36th Street.

"I heard him start yelping, whimpering.... like scared," said Steube of Snow, a mix of German shepherd, Rottweiler and Dalmatian. "He ran into the house again, and jumped on my bed."

Thinking Snow might have been startled by a squirrel or opossum, Steube grabbed a flashlight and went outside to investigate.

And there it was, "a huge hole at the back of the house, adjacent to the walkway," he said.

He wasn't immediately sure what to do.

"I was just frightened," said Steube, who has lived about a dozen years at the home he shares with his 13-year-old son, Kyle. "You just don't go into your backyard and see an 18-foot hole."

He first called his grandmother, who has owned the home since the early 1970s.

Steube said he learned the depth of the fissure after he called public works officials, who in turn contacted the California State Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. But scant information has been available, Steube said.

"I haven't gotten an explanation," he said. "They didn't have any clue. They just said they've got to do some investigating."

The hole is about 20 feet away from an oil well drilled in 1925, said Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the state Department of Conservation. But the well had been capped in 1950, about 12 feet under the surface, he added.

Conservation department officials could not confirm whether the hole in Steube's backyard had been a well at one point.

"Preliminary investigations didn't find anything to indicate this was an oil or gas well," Drysdale said. "There was no wellhead or casing."

The conservation department was waiting for Long Beach officials to determine whether there was anything at the bottom of the sinkhole, where there was standing water.

"Maybe there's something under the water that changes our perception, but until that's determined we can't do anything," Drysdale said. "We're in a holding pattern until we hear from the city."

Long Beach officials had no comment but confirmed they had been to the site.

Steube, who had been trimming tree branches near the site earlier in the day before the sinkhole was discovered, was grateful the ground had not given way. He was equally thankful Snow did not fall in.

He has barricaded the cave-in with chairs and pieces of old board, and his plumber has surrounded it with caution tape.

The spectacle has attracted friends, neighbors and the curious.

"They come walking through, saying they want to see who's become famous," Steube said.

-- Ann M. Simmons

Video credit: KTLA