News / Ottawa

Ottawa man watched as the sinkhole swallowed his van

Imagine calling your insurance company to let them know a sinkhole ate your van. That's what happened to Michel Kiwan on Wednesday, June 9, 2016.

Michel Kiwan, manager of First Choice Locksmiths in Hintonburg, is the owner of a van swallowed Wednesday by an Ottawa sinkhole on Rideau Street. He stands at his workplace next to machines similar to the ones he lost in his van. An employee was on the scene with the van, and was not hurt.

Dylan C. Robertson / Metro Order this photo

Michel Kiwan, manager of First Choice Locksmiths in Hintonburg, is the owner of a van swallowed Wednesday by an Ottawa sinkhole on Rideau Street. He stands at his workplace next to machines similar to the ones he lost in his van. An employee was on the scene with the van, and was not hurt.

Michel Kiwan says his insurance company was stunned when he called to let them know a sinkhole on Rideau Street had swallowed his black van.

“I told them to go online and look at the sinkhole. She said: 'Oh no, don't tell me this was your van!’” Kiwan, the manager of First Choice Locksmiths in Hintonburg, told Metro.

One of his technicians was on a call at a nearby jewelry store when he parked in what Kiwan says was a loading zone. Kiwan said the visit was going smoothly – until the technician left the store.

“When he got outside, he felt something like the ground shaking a little bit,” Kiwan said. “He called me, and said 'I have the van, man. I might lose the van!' I said, 'What are you talking about?' He said: "Yeah, we might lose the van. There's a hole in the ground.' And I said 'What? Send me pictures."

A firefighter told the technician not to risk driving the car. Kiwan watched his van on television and kept getting photos from his technician, until the van finally plunged into the hole.

Workers look on as boom concrete pumps fill a large sinkhole that formed Wednesday morning on Rideau Street, Thursday, June 9, 2016 in Ottawa.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Workers look on as boom concrete pumps fill a large sinkhole that formed Wednesday morning on Rideau Street, Thursday, June 9, 2016 in Ottawa.

Kiwan has seen tweets suggesting the car was illegally parked. “People can say whatever they want,” he says, pulling up Google Streetview to show a sign indicating there is a two-spot loading zone.

Kiwan is critical of city officials for letting water spew for so long, suggesting less pavement might have caved if they acted faster. By his count, it took an hour and half for officials to stop the water.

“They couldn’t do it until the whole thing was destroyed,” Kiwan says. “Imagine if something had fallen into the water? Or to save someone?”

He pulls up a video from social media that shows his floating van circling the sinkhole before plunging downwards. “It’s like a toilet.”

Kiwan says he bought the brand-new van in August 2014. On Wednesday, the van was full of locksmith equipment like drills and jigsaw pliers, but nothing personal. He estimates he’s lost $35,000, but his insurance company said to expect full coverage.

“The most important is that nobody got injured. Material can be replaced.”

At a Thursday news conference, officials said the van was covered in 2,700 cubic metres of concrete, because bringing a crane onto unstable ground would be too risky. They estimate the hole was 40 metres long, 28 metres wide and roughly five metres deep overall.

The officials said it could be two months until they confirm what caused the sinkhole. They estimate OC Transpo and STO buses return to Rideau Street in two or three weeks; most will use the Mackenzie King Bridge until then.

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