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Morning Sun
  • Cracks form in house as ground sinks

  • The house that belongs to Gloria Oertle, 84, has been at the corner of Euclid and Olive streets for decades. Oertle moved into the house 18 years ago, after living across the street for 36 years. The house is living history for her, as well as for the city — it once belonged to the son of Alexander Besse, namesake of the Besse Hotel.

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  • The house that belongs to Gloria Oertle, 84, has been at the corner of Euclid and Olive streets for decades. Oertle moved into the house 18 years ago, after living across the street for 36 years. The house is living history for her, as well as for the city — it once belonged to the son of Alexander Besse, namesake of the Besse Hotel.
    But for the last few days and for the foreseeable future, Oertle won’t be living in her home. Instead, she will be staying with John and Amanda Minton while crews attempt to stabilize her home.
    On Wednesday, Oertle’s home was the site of both a subsidence issue and a water main break. But it all started with a knock.
    “I was having my tea and reading the morning sun when I heard what sounded like a knock on the side of the house,” Oertle said. “A few minutes passed, and it did it again. Then third time it happened, it sounded like a bird hit the window or something. That’s when I went outside.”
    What she saw was surprising. The corner of her house had dropped two inches. After Oertle went inside her home to figure out who to call, a neighbor came in noticing a bad leak of water in the alley.
    Crews with Pittsburg City and Kansas Department of Health and Environment Surface Mining Section came out to solve the water main issue and stabilize the home, respectively. By 7 p.m., although workers had been on scene, the northeast corner of the home had separated by more than a foot from the foundation.
    Over the last few days, crews have remained to work on making sure the house won’t continue to sink while engineers and others try to determine the next steps for the house.
    Meanwhile, Murray Balk, chief of the Surface Mining Section, said the issue is devastating.
    “We have subsidence issues all the time,” Balk said. “There’s a lot of coal fields and zinc filds out here. This is more catastrophic than any I’ve seen. There are a lot of circumstances with the location and the location of the house.
    “Most of the time, subsidences are a small depression in a yard or a driveway, or sometimes a little bit under the house. This is the worst I’ve ever seen, where the foundation is torn away from the house. You can tell quite a change just in the room that collapsed into that.”
    Collapsed may be a strong term, but anyone walking into Oertle’s house can tell that it’s not right. Cracks jut from every doorway like devil horns, and one corner of her living room is a network of ever-increasing cracks.
    Surface Mining crews have placed beams and cribbing underneath the house, and continue to drill holes and fill the ground with cement grout to prevent any further shifting ground.
    Page 2 of 2 - No one argues that there was a subsidence issue and that the water main did break. Neither the city nor the Surface Mining officials seem to know which caused which.
    “It’s kind of a chicken and the egg thing,” Balk said. “Did the water line cause the subsistence problem or did the mine collapse cause the water line break. I don’t think anybody can tell which came first.”
    It might not matter a whole lot to Oertle, who’s spent the last few days making sure nothing is at risk in her home if there is more of a collapse, either above or below ground.
    “We got all the stuff out of the china closet,” she said. “We got all the pictures and mirrors off of the walls. I packed my suitcases as if I was going to take a trip. I had my makeup and my toothbrush and I was ready to go.”
    Work is expected to continue in Oertle’s property for days, if not weeks. And it’s uncertain what type or how much help she will have from her insurance. It all makes for restless nights for Oertle.
    “I didn’t sleep last night. I got up at 3 a.m. and I though of all the things I had to do today,” Oertle said. “I sort of wonder about [how I’m going to live] myself. If I had to move out of here, I might have to rent a place for a while, for a couple months or so. There’s also the possibility we can’t pay to fix the house up... If I get some help, I’d have it restored. If I don’t, it might be so much I’d be without a home.”
    Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 132.

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