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Parking Lot Cave-In: Collapsed Culvert's History

By Andrea Williams

Meridian, Miss. As work continues to determine exactly what caused the culvert to collapse in the IHOP parking lot, Newscenter 11 has learned that this is not the first time for a drainage pipe at that site to cause some concerns.

Two days after the parking lot cave-in at the newly opened IHOP in Meridian the collapsed pipe, which city officials say caused it, is in clear view. That crumpled pipe, had actually replaced a much smaller one that had been there since the 1940's or 50's. The one that's now crushed was installed 14 years ago after some major flooding.

In January 1998 a total of 3.5 inches of rain fell within 12 hours time in Meridian, and this caused major flooding in the parking lot of Red Lobster along Frontage Road. That restaurant is located on the other side of the interstate from where the parking lot collapse occurred.

When the flooding happened in 1998, there was a car dealership located were IHOP now sits, and that dealership also had some flooding. The dealership owner, Billy Jack Ethridge, says when the flooding occurred, city officials realized that a much bigger drainage pipe needed to be installed underground.

"The reason it came to play is that they had cleared all of the property where Bonita Lakes Mall is located," says Ethridge, "and the water could flow quicker than it had ever been able to flow to this point."

For 30 years the Lincoln Mercury dealership that was owned by Billy Jack Ethridge's family was located at the site of the cave-in.

"We would have lost probably a million to half million dollars worth of automobiles if we were still in business, and this would have happened," says Ethridge.

He goes on to say that installation of the current drainage pipe in 2001 had statewide significance.

"This pipe was large enough that you could've driven an 18 wheeler through it," says Ethridge. "The one thing that we were told was that there had never been a pipe that size installed in the state of Mississippi. So, engineering wise, I think that they were stepping out into a new area."

According to City of Meridian spokesman, Richie McAllister, the pipe that collapsed was 18 feet tall, 27 feet wide, and it was nestled in a trench that was 320 feet long.

As for Billy Jack Ethridge, he says the doors to his dealership shut for good in 2009 due to company-wide closures. With the cave-in at the property occurring 6 years after this happened, Ethridge says he's just happy that things were not worse.

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