El Nino could create plenty of sinkholes - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

El Nino could create plenty of sinkholes

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A major sinkhole that brought traffic to a crawl on Interstate 8 last week has been repaired, but could it be the beginning of more to come?

Caltrans officials, as well as local geologists, say the sinkhole was likely caused by a rusted out storm drain which runs under the freeway, beginning at San Diego State University. While they work on plans for a permanent fix, they are also taking steps to try and prevent more sink holes from forming, especially during the El Nino season.

See related story: [Caltrans: Lanes reopen on I-8 after temporary sinkhole repairs

Caltrans officials sent a robot equipped with a camera inside the 42 inch storm drain pipe that runs underneath Interstate 8 near San Diego State. Their goal was to find out what caused a 30 foot deep sinkhole which opened up on the eastbound shoulder last week. Officials say they believe the pipe rusted out.

"The storm water pipe is totally rusted through, which means underneath Interstate 8 during El Nino water is not being held within the pipe," said Dr. Pat Abbot, a local geologist.

Dr. Abbot is concerned there could be even more voids underneath other parts of the freeway, which pose risks for another sinkhole, especially during an upcoming storm.

"It's going to go out, eroding more soil, more rocks and potentially creating more problems for Interstate 8," said Dr. Abbot.

Caltrans says they are monitoring the Interstate 8 pipe daily and working on a permanent fix. However, they admit that El Nino is a major concern for not only the Interstate 8 sinkhole, but for infrastructure around the county.

During 1998's El Nino season, a massive 75 foot deep sinkhole opened up on the interstate 15 onramp near Balboa Avenue. It created a logistics and traffic nightmare. Caltrans spokesperson Edward Cartagena says they are preparing daily for more sinkholes.

"We are actually now tacking on special teams to prepare for El Nino. A lot of it is having our crews go out there and vacuuming or cleaning up certain locations in areas known for flooding, making sure the pipes are clear and clean,” said Cartagena.

They are also checking locations with high traffic volumes. Cartagena says while more sink holes are possible, they're doing everything they can to prevent them, while simultaneously mapping out quick solutions if and when repairs are needed.

"If prepares need to be made, we'll be ready."

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