Residents ordered to evacuate as collapsing yard threatens homes in NJ

FLORENCE, N.J. (WPVI) -- A 70 foot deep ravine is threatening to swallow two homes in Florence, Burlington County that overlook the Delaware River.

This morning engineers determined that the situation is too dangerous, and they are now asking the homeowners near the collapse site to evacuate their properties.

Geotechnical engineers from a private consulting company visited the scene on the 400 block of E. Front Street today to examine the eroding hillside that's been collapsing over the last two years, and which is now threatening two homes.

A tearful Lynne O'Dell said, "This is our home. We've put a lot of effort into it. I put a lot of love into this house."

Chris and Lynne O'Dell live in one of the two homes.

Chris says, "When we walk away, we could be walking away for good and losing everything. That's hard to take. But by the same token we're both still standing here by the grace of God, and we haven't gone over and they're finding us at the bottom of a cliff."

Monday's torrential rains eroded the hill further, exposing an abandoned storm sewer drain pipe that was spewing water, and may be the cause of the dramatic collapse of the hillside.

"Any time we get any kind of significant rainfall, we start to see more of the loss of the property. I guess that's part of what the engineering folks are probably going to be able to determine," Chris said.

The township has asked the O'Dells to keep people out of their yard, and this morning erected fences to keep the curious away.

The O'Dells have been preparing for the worst, but have been reluctant to begin packing their belongings.

Lynne O'Dell says, "I'm still trying to wrap my head around this. We, you know, we've talked about it... packing stuff, and I just can't bring myself to do it. I know I need to."

Chris tells us, "One thing we talked about was no matter what, let's get the things that we can't replace, the family pictures, the documents, that kind of stuff. And let's get those off site."

Engineers who looked at the site believe further collapse of the sides of the giant gulley is imminent.

Assistant Township Administrator Tom Sahol says, "I don't think you can define saying within hours, it could be days. But when lives are at stake you don't take any chances."

The O'Dells say they don't know where they are going to go and they don't know if they're ever going to get back to their home.

Burlington County officials and the township are working together to figure out the exact cause of the giant gaping hole, and how to fix it.
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