At first they thought it was a natural disaster, but it turned out to be a mine collapse. As the ground gave way in a Black Hawk neighborhood, dozens of families had their lives uprooted. Now, they’re coming together to build a lawsuit against Meade County.
The neighborhood is called Hideaway Hills, but no one who lives here ever imagined an old gypsum mine was hiding beneath their homes.
“We still check the yard everyday”
Natasha Geigle’s home is about 150 yards from the collapse. She’s still living in the Black Hawk neighborhood, but worries it may not be safe.
“And when we get lots of rain that makes us a little nervous and every crack in the road carries a different meaning now,” Geigle said.
Geigle says the emotional stress is starting to impact her family and her neighbors.
“There’s just so many unknowns and I think that’s a huge issue for most everyone in this neighborhood, especially the evacuees. I can’t even imagine being in their shoes. Hopefully, the majority of us won’t have to be but I can tell you I feel a lot better now that we have legal representation,” Giegle said.
Giegle and 120 of her neighbors have filed a lawsuit against Meade County.
“Since the filing of that lawsuit, what’s happened is the county has decided to stop processing those FEMA applications, which is unfortunate,” Fitzgerald said.
John Fitzgerald is the Attorney for the Hideaway Hills residents and he encouraged his clients to apply for FEMA. He also says that some neighbors are reporting strange illnesses that they fear may be caused by old sewage lagoons.
The residents want to sue the county for $75.5 million. They also want to get the state involved.
“We’ve asked for as much as we think is possibly awardable under the law. We’ve asked for exemplary damages which are known as punitive damages and those punish people to set an example so that people in the future, including all of the names and other people, don’t do anything like this again, that’s the point of the law,” Fitzgerald said.
It’s important to note that that this is not considered a sinkhole. A sinkhole is considered a naturally caused disaster. But what caused the collapse is the mine that lies beneath the neighborhood which makes it a manmade disaster. That is why some of the neighbors believe the county should be held accountable.
There’s evidence the county has been aware of the underground mine since at least June of 2006. County Commission minutes from that month mention the underground mine. The document says ‘The original developers want to close off part of Daisy Drive because it is caving into the old underground mine’.
“Some of the things I’ve seen, some of the evidence I’ve seen, it’s definitely pointing to things that people either turned a blind eye or just didn’t care so it’s very obvious that stuff like that went on and it’s probably the most frustrating thing,” Adam Geigle said.
Those frustrations can be felt throughout this neighborhood. Carisa Gerving was evacuated from her home when she started to see her yard and even the floor in her house shifting.
“Right now we are living with my in-laws. We are fortunate in that way because they live in Summerset which isn’t very far away. It is an inconvenience that we are seven people living in one house. My in-laws weren’t expecting to have three children back in the home,” Carisa Gerving said.
Like her neighbors, Gerving initially thought the county would cover the costs and she would be able to receive the full value of her home. However, she says, that’s not the case.
“At the very least we want the value of our home, we’ve been here five years. Houses are very expensive right now. If we start over with no down payment and nothing to show for it, it’s hard to move forward,” Gerving said.
Gerving says if the bank forecloses on her home, she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to afford another place to live.
And losing her house has been a heartbreaking experience.
“This is the first house I was able to give my teenage daughter. My son.. all of his best friends live on this street and we all thought they would grow up together and stay in the same schools and now we don’t know what’s going to happen, where we’ll end up, if he’ll have the same friends,” Gerving said.
Right now you’ll find similar fears and concerns from homeowners throughout Hideaway Hills.
“I’m very worried about what’s going to happen. I think our home is safe but I don’t know if it is,” Geigle said.
KELOLAND News reached out to the county Emergency Manager along with the Board of Commissioners who say they are not making any comment at this time.