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2 dead after sinkhole opens in Atlanta lot

A sinkhole, apparently caused by severe storms that overwhelmed an old sewer pipe, swallowed part of a hotel parking lot Monday, killing a woman trapped in her car.

The woman, whose body was pulled from the sinkhole hours later, was not immediately identified. Officials at the hotel, a Courtyard by Marriott, said two employees could not be accounted for, but they were unsure if either was the dead woman.

Rescue workers later recovered the body of a man near a sewer system connected to the pipe that burst in the Marriott lot. But officials could not say whether the death was caused by the sinkhole.

Rescuers tethered by ropes searched the 100-foot-wide, 25-foot-deep hole for more cars but retreated to allow public works officials to try to stabilize the area.

"There's not anything we can do until they make this site safe," said Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski. "We don't have any idea how many cars are down there."

Authorities warned that the hole could widen if more rain fell.

Atlanta fire Lt. Anthony Miller said the garage collapsed about 7:30 a.m. Monday in a powerful rainstorm.

"Apparently all the rain washed away some dirt under the foundation and a sinkhole developed. The parking deck just collapsed into it," Miller said.

The sinkhole, he said, "keeps enlarging" and rescue workers had a "slow and tedious operation."

The collapse caused the adjacent Marriott hotel to evacuate guests until further notice and several neighboring businesses to close until the danger from the sinkhole had passed. Several of those businesses suffered structural damage.

Marriott manager Ed Lee said the hotel would not reopen "until we're certain there's no danger."

The National Weather Service said 2.2 inches of rain fell on parts of downtown Atlanta within 40 minutes as the thunderstorms passed through.

Just four days before, the city had been called in to inspect cracks around a manhole and in a retaining wall at the parking lot.

City workers were scheduled to repair the cracks and apply steel reinforcements to the sewer line Monday, but the pipe collapsed before they could begin, said Douglas Hooker, acting commissioner of the Public Works Department.

"There was potential for a cave-in, but we didn't envision anything like this," he said.

The hotel itself was not threatened, but guests were evacuated after its utilities were cut off.