With the street buckling in front of her, Evelyn Cannon called 911 as cars teetered and then began to sink, their wheels becoming less and less visible.
But Cannon felt unable to convey the gravity of the situation, she said. About 45 seconds into the call, when the operator asked her if anything was damaged, Cannon became exasperated.
"The street is damaged," she said into her phone, in one of nearly a dozen 911 recordings released Thursday by the Baltimore Fire Department. "I know this sounds crazy."
The collapse last week of a retaining wall holding East 26th Street in Charles Village above a railroad line started slowly, the street subsiding before finally giving out. Several residents and passers-by watched the shift as it occurred, and some called 911.
When they got through to emergency operators, according to recordings of their conversations, some had trouble explaining what they were seeing.
Since the calls related to street damage, 911 operators transferred some of them to the nonemergency 311 line, a resource for reporting potholes and everyday problems, not disasters.
Some called from home, trying to keep their emotions in check, while others were moving around the neighborhood, trying to warn others — partly out of the fear that emergency dispatchers weren't taking them seriously.
"It was extremely difficult," said Erica McCullough, whose voice appears in two of the released recordings.
McCullough, a single mother who has lived on the now-collapsed block of East 26th for 13 years, said she was trying to control her emotions as she made the call. She is the same woman caught screaming on a video of the collapse that went viral and was shared around the world.
Seeing and hearing her own reactions to the landslide, McCullough said, brings all the emotions back.
"For me, the whole thing has been extremely emotional," she said. "I've been through a lot on that block, so when you hear that scream or you hear whatever's on that 911 tape, it's me realizing that my whole entire life is possibly going under."
Cannon called 911, frantic to get emergency personnel to the scene, she said, and less than a minute later seemed frustrated with an operator as she counted the vehicles that she correctly predicted would tumble onto CSX Transportation railroad tracks beneath the street.
"There are probably about one, two, three, four, five, six, seven — seven or eight parked cars that are sunk so far that … there's no way they could ever be driven out," Cannon said.
"On the street. OK. Is anybody hurt?" the operator asked.
"No, nobody is hurt, but I can just tell you, it's sinking," Cannon said. "It's going so fast the children had enough sense when they were walking on the sidewalk to say, 'Let me get off of this because it is sinking in.' "
"OK. Is it water?" the operator asked.
"No," Cannon said, louder. "It is the street that's separating. It's like, I mean, as in like two or three feet of separation from the street; as in the street is up and two or three feet are down into the ground."
Ian Brennan, a Baltimore Fire Department spokesman, said city dispatchers all ask the same series of questions designed at a national level to "ensure the safety of fire responders and others, so that we make sure we send the right people to an incident."
Sometimes residents can get "miffed" with repetitive questioning from dispatchers who seem as if they don't understand information that's being shared, possibly delaying a response, Brennan said. But dispatchers are releasing information as they get it — sometimes to responders already en route to an incident — and are simply following protocols to collect more information, he said.
"We understand that it's frustrating sometimes from the other side, because people just want to say, 'There's a sinkhole, come,' boom and be done in two questions, but we're looking for more information," he said.