Homes evacuated over Benld mine collapse

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MACOUPIN COUNTY, IL (KTVI) - Four homes in the southern Illinois town of Benld were evacuated Wednesday over damage caused by recent mine subsidence.

Benld Police Chief James Zirkelbach said authorities checked six square blocks, between West Dorsey Street, South Illinois Street and South Kentucky. More than a dozen homes are believed to have damaged foundations. The homes were evacuated as a precaution after authorities detected methane gas leaks in three homes. Roads also cracked and buckled.

Benld, named after founder Benjamin L. Dorsey, used to be a mining town. Now, the century-old wooden pillars that held up the mine shafts are rotting, causing the tunnels and the ground above them to cave in.

Methane from the mine shafts is bubbling up to the basements of a few of the homes, causing them to buckle. Ameren Illinois is working to clear the gas out. While not poisonous, methane is highly combustible. The utility company shut off power for about 70 customers to prevent a methane explosion.

Lifelong Benld resident Bill Kasich is one of the people forced out of his home by a methane leak.  His father was a miner.  The mines, which once paid the family's mortgage, have now ruined his childhood home.

“To me, it’s a disaster because I love the place; because I grew up here," Kasich said. "I was in the Army, and all I ever thought about was this home.  So it’s a shock to me.”

The mine subsidence was first spotted by a police officer around 4 a.m. Wednesday.  As of that afternoon, Benld Mayor Gloria Sidar said the subsidence is still traveling, so more damage is possible.

Even the mayor’s home was not spared.

“I’m going to get teary-eyed.  My house is the house I raised my girls in," she said.  "You hate to see anything happen to it. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it, you have to roll with the punches.”

This is not the first time the town has had to deal with sinkholes or mine subsidence. A mine collapse in 2009 rendered Benld Elementary School an unsafe area. The school was eventually demolished and rebuilt in a different location. In September 2014, the Gillespie School District won a $9.8 million lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad, whose predecessors were subsidiaries of the company that mined the area where the school was built.

With so many old mine shafts in the area, the problem will only get worse. The only thing residents can do is get mine subsidence insurance.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.