Old septic system likely caused Portland sinkhole

A sinkhole opened at this house at SE 38th and Clinton in Portland, Feb. 19, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
A sinkhole opened at this house at SE 38th and Clinton in Portland, Feb. 19, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A woman and her dog survived a 20-foot fall in her Southeast Portland backyard into a sinkhole likely caused by a turn-of-the-20th-century septic system.

The sinkhole opened up around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the woman’s home at SE 38th and Clinton. The 33-year-old woman was looking for her poodle when she fell in.

A board covers a sinkhole that opened at this house at SE 38th and Clinton in Portland, Feb. 18, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
A board covers a sinkhole that opened at this house at SE 38th and Clinton in Portland, Feb. 18, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

Neighbor Jason Masarik had just returned home from work and was standing on his porch when he heard something crying out.

“I almost went back inside, but it was so repetitive that I decided to investigate,” he told KOIN 6 News. “The closer I got the more it sounded like someone crying for help.”

He found the woman and called 911: “Hello, I have an emergency.  My neighbor’s stuck down in a hole in her backyard, like it’s a sinkhole!”

City investigators said an abandoned cesspool opened up in the backyard. This septic system is typically found east of the Willamette and was used at the beginning of the 20th century.

Property owners are required to decommission or backfill cesspools with sand or gravel, but in many cases — like this one — the homeowners don’t know they have one.

“We may or may not have a record of a cesspool existing,” said Ross Caron with the Portland Bureau of Development Services. “A lot of time these cesspools were done in the early 20th century so the record keeping may not have captured that.”

Historic records on sewage systems can be found on microfiche at the Bureau of Development in downtown Portland. They are also available on PortlandMaps.com by typing in an address for property information.

Most homeowners insurance doesn’t cover sinkholes.

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