On Saturday, a combination of torrential rains and 25-year-old rusty pipes in Cleveland, Ga., opened what's arguably a sinkhole beneath the tiny town's only Sonic Drive-In restaurant and next-door car wash, nearly swallowing both buildings whole before customers and employees could escape.
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"It was frightening," Sonic manager Tammy Moore said in an exclusive interview with AOL News Surge Desk. "We were all here when the rain started coming down and we had to act pretty fast. The trash can outside started sinking. I told my employees and the customers we had to get off the lot. Then the police came and roped the whole site off. Within an hour, the ground had totally broken apart."
Surge Desk reached Moore after she and a few others had been granted limited clearance by safety officials to enter the building and remove equipment, perishable items from the fridge and any remaining valuables.
She estimates that the gaping sinkhole -- more like a chasm, really -- now measures in about 200 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. Meanwhile, the White County Office of Emergency Management has taken issue with the term "sinkhole," instead classifying the resulting destruction as a "wash out," according to director David Murphy.
Either way, irreversible damage to the Sonic has been done: Two sets of awnings were ruined when the ground collapsed, and though the building still stands -- barely -- it won't be operational again for at least the next four months, if ever.
As a result, Moore explained, the store's staff of 16 is now "basically out of a job." They have been offered transfer positions at the nearest Sonic, which happens to be about two hours away in Tennessee, but because it is so far from where they live, many are unlikely to make the move.
"Georgia's really suffering right now economically, so this is a double whammy for us," Moore noted. "Most of our employees have been here for several years. When they saw what was happening, they were heartbroken. Several started crying. It was a very emotional event for us."
Indeed, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Statistics, Georgia ranks near the bottom (39th) of the country when it comes to unemployment rates. At 9.9 percent unemployment, the state is substantially worse off than the 9.5 percent national average.
For Moore's part, she isn't sure what lies in her future. Sonic says it will keep her on retainer and allow her to take over the store when and if it is finally repaired, but for now, she's thinking fairly short term.
"I'm still in shock. I'm just hoping and praying it doesn't rain any more."
She may be in luck: The forecast for Cleveland calls for sunny skies for at least the next several days.