Park, playground close in U.S. ex-mining town under high risk of cave-ins

Wednesday, February 15th 2006, 3:03 pm
By: News On 6

PICHER, Oklahoma (AP) _ City workers Wednesday finished fencing off a park, the latest chunk of town lost to the threat that it collapse into the underground mines below.

About 30 percent of Picher and nearby Cardin, Oklahoma, including homes, roads, churches and playgrounds, is built above failing mining caverns that could collapse at any time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discovered in a recent study.

Since the warnings came out, school buses have been rerouted to stay off roads that may be in danger of collapsing, including the main thoroughfare through town.

At Picher-Cardin School, which has about 350 students, workers have been disassembling basketball goals, swing sets and other equipment at a playground that just opened last summer.

The former lead and zinc mining area in the far northeast corner of the U.S. state has been on the Superfund list for more than two decades, but the Corps of Engineers report released two weeks ago shows that the old mining caverns pose an even greater threat than many residents had realized.

``Obviously, everyone is talking about it,'' said Picher City Clerk Carolyn Elmore. ``Do they go and start looking for another place to live? Do they wait it out? No one knows what tomorrow is going to bring.''

Some residents of Picher and Cardin, which have a combined population of about 1,800, want the government to buy their properties so they can move. About 50 families took advantage of a state buyout that was limited to families with children under 6.

Gov. Brad Henry has said that paying for relocation is ultimately the federal government's responsibility, but Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, has said the state should chip in.