WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington is used to being the brunt of jokes, particularly those centered around the action, or lack of it, on Capitol Hill.
But on Tuesday, the focus moved to the Adams Morgan neighborhood, where some saw a symbol of Washington - a gaping sinkhole in the middle of a bustling sidewalk.
Unlike the fatal sinkhole that swallowed a man as he slept in his Seffner, Florida, home on February 28, or the one a golfer fell into on an Illinois fairway earlier this month, the Washington sinkhole is more on the order of a large pothole. Surrounded by yellow tape, it is about a yard (meter) square, as deep as 10 feetand sits a few miles from the White House, another frequent source of late-night television humor.
But the sinkhole quickly took on larger proportions as chatter erupted on social media.
"A sinkhole has opened in Washington D.C. Last to push their congressman in is a rotten egg," tweeted Bill O'Keefe.
"25 ft deep sinkhole in DC today and it's expanding. Seems like I got out at the right time. It was nice knowing you, Washington," tweeted T.C. Sottek.
Metropolitan Police were dispatched to the sinkhole site, and local residents said the problem might be due to a new sewer that had just been installed.
"If that is the case, it would be typical of this kind of sinkhole collapse," said Jim Kaufmann, a research physical scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey.
Sinkholes are not uncommon, Kaufman said, because about 20 percent of the United States sits atop what is known as karst terrain, regions where rock below the surface can be naturally dissolved by groundwater. Hot areas for sinkholes are Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
In a city like Washington, they can be traced to something as innocuous as a leaking pipe that erodes sediment below the surface, Kaufmann said by phone from Rolla, Missouri. They also are common after long dry spells followed by rainy periods.
Even Kaufmann initially saw the humor in Washington's encounter with the phenomenon.
"It's not on Capitol Hill, is it?," he asked.
Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson