The cemetery holds 20,000 graves including 714 Civil War veterans

By CRAIG MACKENZIE, UK Daily Mail

A sinkhole that forced the evacuation of 25 residents from their homes has spread to an historic cemetery, threatening dozens of graves.

Officials in Allentown, Pennsylvania, have been given the go-ahead by a judge to exhume remains buried during the Civil War.

The hole, measuring 50ft long and 30ft wide, was thought to have collapsed when a water main burst and flooded under a road.

About 60 graves in Union and West End Cemetery are threatened have been roped off after several headstones tilted.

The cemetery holds about 20,000 graves, including 714 Civil War veterans. Among them is a Medal of Honor winner, Ignatz Gresser.

Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said: ‘If any sites are in jeopardy, than we are going to have to make that decision to excavate.

‘It’s a very sensitive issue. You are dealing with a cemetery. You are laid to rest and now it is being disturbed.’

Everette Carr, president of the association which maintains the 157-year old non-profit burial ground, revealed there were are no detailed historical records beyond those whose graves have headstones.

Many of the dead were buried in wooden baskets as was the custom during that era.

A dozen homes half a block from the hole on 10th Street were evacuated yesterday after firemen found a basement flooded. Five properties have been declared structurally unsafe.

‘At this point, we don’t know if the homes will have to be condemned or not,’ said fire chief Robert C. Scheirer.

‘Once we get the street secured, we will get into these homes and determine whether any have to be razed.’

Emergency workers have cut off power supplies and are now filling in the hole in with concrete.

Ann Blacker was forced to leave the home where she has lived for nearly three decades.

She said: ‘We’re afraid we’ll lose our home and everything in it. With sinkholes, you never know how far they will spread. There is just a lot of uncertainty now.’

She plans to stay with her mother. A shelter has been set up at an elementary school to accommodate evacuees who need somewhere to stay.

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