BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - A sinkhole formed Wednesday under the National Corvette Museum here, swallowing eight cars, according to its executive director.
Some time before 5:30 a.m. CT, the sinkhole started to form, authorities believe. By 5:44 a.m. motion detectors were going 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.
Bowling Green - about 60 miles northeast of Nashville, Tenn., and 100 miles southwest of Louisville, Ky. - is at the edge of a karst region where caves, springs and sinkholes are common. The main entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park is about 30 miles northeast of the city, but that cave system has more than 400 miles that have been explored.
The National Corvette Museum will celebrate its 20th anniversary in August. Of the eight cars that fell into the hole,the museum owned six and General Motors owned two. GM's Corvette plant where present-day Corvettes are manufactured is across a highway less than a half mile from the museum.
Cars involved in the incident, which occurred inside the museum's iconic spire called the Sky Dome, are these:
•1962 black Corvette
•1984 PPG pace car
•1992 white 1 millionth Corvette
•1993 ruby red 40th anniversary Corvette
•1993 ZR-1 Spyder on loan from General Motors
•2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette
•2009 white 1.5 millionth Corvette
•2009 ZR1 "Blue Devil" on loan from General Motors
Emergency personnel allowed museum staff to remove only one car in the Sky Dome, the only surviving 1983 Corvette, he said. It had not fallen in the hole
Andrea Hales, communications manager at the Bowling Green Corvette plant said the Corvette was not produced in 1983 Corvette, and the only surviving prototype is at the museum. She added that the sinkhole had no effect on the nearby plant.
Engineers at the scene are assessing the situation, said Jason Polk, a professor of geology and geography at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Polk is part of the team investigating the cause and extent of the sink hole at the museum Wednesday.
"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," Strode said.
Central Kentucky's geology lends itself to sinkholes, and they are not uncommon, Polk said. The cause of the sinkhole at the Corvette museum has not been determined, but oftentimes this kind of hole is caused by caves that expand over time until the surface gives way.
"Eventually, the soil can't hold it," he said.
At this point, it does not look like any other potential sink holes are threatening the rest of the museum, Polk said.
Butch Hume, president of Louisville's Falls City Corvette Club, cringed when he heard which cars were involved.
"I was stunned," he said. "What a terrible place for it to happen."
When news of the sinkhole 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. "We're all feeling the same way. Oh man, that's a shame."
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.
The museum is open Wednesday but the Sky Dome will be off limits, Strode 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 has not been determined yet.