The giant hole — measuring about 50 feet wide and covering the length of the restaurant’s 600-foot parking lot — was preceded by a “series of booms” and the power going out, according to NBC affiliate WLBT.
The booms were so powerful that one employee inside the restaurant yelled “earthquake,” according to ABC affiliate WTOK.
“The sinkhole is huge,” Meridian Police Patrol Lt. Rita Jack told NBC News. “If you imagine a football field cut in half, it is every bit of 50 feet wide and about 100-125 feet wide. We are talking 14 to 15 vehicles. It is very scary. We are so fortunate that no injuries were sustained. We are gonna keep it under observation until we know that it is clear and safe.”
Though Jack called it a “sinkhole,” Meridian Public Safety Director Buck Roberts told the Meridian Star that the collapse was not the result of a sinkhole, which is generally caused when an underground water aquifer dries and leaves a void in the ground, the Associated Press reported.
“You can call it what you want, a cave-in or whatever,” Roberts told the Meridian Star. “But it is not a sinkhole.”
Roberts told the newspaper that there was a broken water main beneath the site of the collapse, but said “the break is not the cause of our problems.”
Nobody was injured in the incident, which occurred around 7:15 p.m., authorities said.
“We received a call of vehicles going through the pavement at the IHOP in Meridian,” Jack, the police lieutenant, told NBC News. “When we arrived on scene, 14 to 15 vehicles that we could see had fallen roughly 30 feet into the ground. We expect that there may be more and that they may fall further into the ground because there is only mud underneath.”
The IHOP had opened earlier in the week, according to WTOK, and the opening had been followed by several days of rain. The station reported that the area has seen nearly 10 inches of rain over the past two weeks.
Roberts, the public safety director, told the Meridian Star that engineers and contractors will be at the site of the cave-in Monday, trying to determine the cause of the collapse. “He declined to comment on a possible cause,” the Star reported.
“I am not an engineer,” Roberts told the newspaper. “It would just be speculation.”
He added: “We won’t know exactly what happened until engineers can determine the cause.”
This post, originally published on Nov. 8, has been updated.