Vehicle teeters over sinkhole at Mission and New Montgomery in SF

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A car service driver and his passengers got a shock when the road collapsed beneath their SUV and pitched the vehicle partly into a nine-foot deep sinkhole on Mission Street in downtown San Francisco Tuesday.

Repairs are expected to begin early Wednesday morning on the broken water main that caused the 12-foot long sinkhole, but officials with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) say the block of Mission Street likely will be closed to traffic all day, which could cause traffic backups and gridlock during busy commute hours.

Police say the SUV driver had picked up a family of five and was taking them to the airport to catch a flight Tuesday about 5:30 p.m. The SUV had stopped for a red light at the intersection with New Montgomery Street.

"The driver said the ground just gave way and the car just dropped," said San Francisco Police Officer Mike Cattaneo, who was driving by with his partner at the time and saw the SUV and the people trapped inside.

It happened during rush hour and police immediately stopped traffic and blocked off Mission Street between New Montgomery Street and Second Street.

The vehicle was perched so precariously, fire crews had to tie down the SUV with ropes in order to keep it from falling in and finally were able to get the driver and the family safely.

"We were worried about the occupants. We didn't want the car to fall any farther. Fire [crews] came on scene and secured the vehicle," Officer Cattaneo said, "They tied it to some parking meters with some rope."

An SFPUC spokesman said the hole was caused by a broken sewer main that was built in the late 19th century.

"It's a three foot by five-foot-high sewer main that dates back to 1875. Usually with sewers that old, age is the likely cause of the break," said Charles Sheehan, an SFPUC spokesman.

Police say there were no injuries and it was fortunate the vehicle was not moving or it could have plunged deeper into the hole.

Also, the collapsed roadway barely missed an orange underground gas line that runs parallel to the sewer line just feet away from the sewer line from where the asphalt crashed down.

A tow truck finally pulled the vehicle out and police say the family had to rush to the airport to make their flight.

Workers put up barriers around the sinkhole as a safety measure and in preparation for Wednesday morning's repair work.

"Crews will clean it up and they'll reattach new pipe, make the street whole again and put the street back into service and the sewer back into service," said Sheehan, who added that the block of Mission Street could be closed for several days.

Sheehan says the broken sewer line has not impacted sewer or water service to customers in the area.

Raw sewage however, was spilling out into the hole. SFPUC crews plan to clean up the area and run a camera along the pipeline on either side of the break to check for damage.

Traffic and the SF Muni line #14 will be rerouted Tuesday while crews work.

The SFPUC says the city does have more pipeline dating to the late 19th century. They are checking into how much of that old pipeline has yet to be replaced.

The SFPUC also said that two years ago they began accelerating their replacement program from 1 mile of pipeline a year to 15 miles of pipe.