Brooklynites might fall into the 'void'

Brooklyn Currents | 7/26/2013 | 0 comments

 By DAVID J. GLENN
Brooklyn Currents Editor

You may get a sinking feeling whenever you think back to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy – actually, it might be more than just a feeling.
After Sandy hurled a big chunk of the Atlantic upon southern Brooklyn, the receding floodwaters left underground air pockets that may develop into – and in some cases already have become – sinkholes under streets and foundations.

Crown Heights architect Walter Maffei already has detected large air pockets – "voids" – under four properties in southern Brooklyn, including what he called an "extremely alarming" 10-foot deep, 6-foot-wide void in the foundation of a six-story apartment building in Brighton Beach.

"The water flooded relatively slowly, but receded quickly," Maffei told Brooklyn Currents. "It sucked out a lot of the [underground] soil, causing the voids."

Some sinkholes already have been found under or around the foundations of some buildings in southern Brooklyn, and voids are being discovered "all over" the area, in the words of a technician at a local company specializing in finding these underground hazards.

Maffei – who is Brooklyn secretary for the American Institute of Architects – is worried that sinkholes are a looming danger for Brooklynites, whether in their homes or while they're walking or driving on the street. "I'd rather not think about a car or truck falling into a sinkhole along Brighton Beach Avenue," he said.

Homeowners can't expect much help from the insurance companies, Maffei said. He described how a large crack developed in the foundation of a house near the ocean due to the air pocket – the insurance company told the homeowner that the crack was "pre-existing."

"How could they possibly make a determination like that? It was obviously caused by the effects of Sandy," he said.

Maffei suggested that property owners get their structures tested, which is usually done through "ground penetrating radar" – a process developed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to detect underground caves where the Viet Cong would hide out.

Once a void is detected, it can be filled by injecting grouting into it, or by ripping up the cement overlay and directly filling it with polyurethane or other materials.

Maffei said he has contacted the city Department of Buildings about the potential danger confronting southern Brooklyn, but so far has received no response. Brooklyn Currents couldn't reach any DOB officials by this posting.

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