MERIDIAN -- City of Meridian officials on Monday cited the "catastrophic failure" of an underground storm water drainage culvert as the culprit in the Saturday night collapse of a section of the parking lot outside an IHOP restaurant that swallowed at least 14 vehicles.
Monday, Meridian Mayor Percy Bland declared a state of emergency, which will allow the city to bring in outside engineering experts to shore up the site and expedite the removal of the vehicles from the gash in the parking lot, which is about 50 feet wide, 360 feet long and 30 feet deep.
Bland's assistant, Richie McAlister, said a storm water drainage pipe 18-feet-deep and 27-feet-wide that runs the length of the gash in the parking lot failed, causing the parking lot to collapse.
Engineers were on scene Monday trying to determine what caused the pipe's failure.
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McAlister said the drainage culvert is the largest of its type in the state of Mississippi and there have been no prior problems with it since it was constructed in the late 1990s.
City Council member Dustin Markham said the issue will likely be the topic of discussion at a workshop this morning.
Emergency crews were called to the IHOP restaurant on North Frontage Road at about 7:15 p.m. Saturday and discovered a section of the parking lot had collapsed.
No one was inside any of the vehicles at the time and there were no injuries.
Earlier reports that 12 vehicles had tumbled into the fissure were incorrect. Monday, officials said there were at least 14 vehicles visible that included 10 cars, three SUVs and a pickup truck.
Bland and other officials, attorneys and engineers from the city met Sunday night with IHOP owners to determine the next steps in dealing with the collapse.
The new IHOP on North Frontage Road opened last week and business was booming, said Abdul Lala, president of Meridian Hospitality LLC, which owns the restaurant.
"We are just happy no one got hurt," Lala said.
The collapse ruptured a water main and sewer line, shutting off the water supply to several nearby restaurants and hotels, including the Holiday Inn, which is also owned by Meridian Hospitality.
Lala said hotel employees provided those staying at the hotel with bottled water and used buckets to collect water from the swimming pool to flush toilets.
An engineer from Jackson will use pilings to stabilize the IHOP building, Lala said.
City officials said it was unclear how long it would take to repair the culvert and remove the cars from the trench.
According to a city press release, "Bland has committed to using every resource at his disposal to help the restaurant reopen as soon as possible."
Heavy rains that dumped up to 10 inches in the area over the past two weeks may have been a contributing factor in the culvert's collapse, an official on scene said. It was raining most of the day Saturday prior to the collapse.
The area that caved in follows the path of the culvert that drains into nearby Sowashee Creek.
City officials said the Mississippi Department of Transportation examined nearby North Frontage Road and said it was safe for travel by motorists. The section of drainage pipe that runs beneath the road is encased in concrete, McAlister said.