Two weeks after mine subsidence damaged more than 20 houses, crews attempted to begin the slow process of filling in an abandoned mine Friday in Mount Oliver.
The foundation of the homes suffered cracking, holes and shifting of the foundation when the century-old mine under Frederick Street experienced a subsidence. Officials are still unsure what caused the mine to move but say it is possible that its structure partially collapsed.
"It was like a three-ring circus down here," said resident Ray Augustine.
Concern among residents has begun to die down now that the Department of Environmental Protection has begun work to prevent further damage.
"Exactly 57 holes are going to be burrowed into the ground," said DEP spokesman John Poister. "Then we will pump in a concrete sand mixture into the mine cavities beneath the homes. It will harden and stabilize the ground."
The company contracted for the job, Coastal Drilling East, expected to complete two or three holes by end of day Friday. But at 3 p.m., crews had to stop working because they ran out of drill pipe. One hole was drilled 210 feet into the ground, but the mine was not found.
"Either we are not drilling in the right spot or the mine is deeper than we thought," Mr. Poister said. "We are going to start again on Monday."
The entire project is expected to cost $1.3 million and take up to eight weeks to complete. It will be funded by federal taxes paid by coal companies.
But the cost of repairing damage to homes will be left to the homeowners.
"The companies who built the mines are long gone," said Mount Oliver borough engineer Ruthanne Omer. "Although the state will stabilize the ground, without mine subsidence insurance, the money to fix this is coming out of our residents' pockets."
Janet Wolf said she was one of the only residents on Frederick Street who has mine subsidence insurance. Her foundation is cracked and a sinkhole formed in her backyard.
I really have no idea what this is going to cost," Ms. Wolf said. "None of us do."
Five of the 20 homes were so severely damaged that they became unlivable, but only two were occupied. Officials are unsure when those owners will be allowed to return or if they will be able to afford the repairs.
"I don't know where they're going to get that kind of money," said Joe Bester, a 64-year-old neighbor.
Meanwhile, the DEP is spreading the word about the importance of mine subsidence insurance. Mr. Poister said they plan to send out several thousand fliers to area property owners.
"If you colored in on a map all the areas around Pittsburgh where there are underground mines, everything from Mount Washington and the South Side down to Washington County would be almost solid," Mr. Poister said.
Mine subsidence insurance is available through the DEP (www.dep.state.pa.us/msihomeowners) and costs $57 per year for every $100,000 in property value.
Mr. Poister said the kind of damage suffered by the homes in Mount Oliver is rare, but smaller problems, like cracks in foundation or sinking driveways, are common.
"It's better just to covered," Mr. Poister said. "For what you get in return, it's dirt cheap."