BOLING, Texas -- A sinkhole opened overnight and swallowed two pickup trucks that drove into what the drivers thought was 'a little puddle of water' on a farm road in south Texas. The three people in the vehicles swam to safety.
Authorities feared the 100-yard-wide hole that engulfed telephone poles and trees might grow and threaten nearby homes. One resident whose home was 300 yards away moved out.
Residents in the area 30 miles southwest of Houston speculated either sulfur mining or the extraction of brine from underground salt domes by natural gas companies caused the cave-in.
Also lost was a state highway department sign put up Wednesday warning motorists of high water caused when a short stretch of Farm to Market Road 442 sank a few feet and water covered the road.
Highway department district director Earl Wyatt said the collapse surprised his engineers who checked the road as late as 10:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday.
'We had no indication we were going to have a collapse,' he said. 'Our foreman went out to look at it and there was no change. So he went to bed.'
The earth dropped sometime around midnight Thursday after David Green, 19, drove the low-lying stretch en route to town in the late evening, Green's father, Troy Cloud, said.
When David came back about midnight, the puddle had no bottom.
'He thought it was just a little puddle of water there. It wasn't,' Cloud said. 'He said there wasn't no bottom to it.'
A few minutes later, Matt Hobizal drove his pickup off the edge. Kevin Joyce was asleep on the passenger's side and had to swim about 35 yards to safety.
Joyce's father, John Joyce, said his son was shaken.
'It scared hell out of Kevin. He was asleep and all of a sudden there was water all around. He almost didn't get out of there because his boots filled with water,' Joyce said.
Walter Ganske, who said he lived 200 yards from the sinkhole, estimated the hole was 100 feet deep 'judging from the way trees are falling.
'They'd just as well forget about those trucks,' he said. 'It's sad.... There ain't much you can do until this thing settles out.'
Ganske, a retired drilling foreman for Texas Gulf Sulfur Co., said the area has experienced other settling areas and sinkholes.
Cloud said residents had been complaining to Wharton County commissioners and Texas highway officials for weeks about the sinking road.
Joyce, a nearby Brahman rancher, was angry because the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation did not close the road Wednesday.
'I had two busloads of cattle breeders travel that road last evening. Now wouldn't that have been something if they'd fallen in?'