Vases snatched from mouth of San Francisco sinkhole Crane supports house during daring rescue

SAN FRANCISCO — SAN FRANCISCO -- A monster storm had virtually destroyed Walter Yee's beloved San Francisco home, yet he was grinning as if he'd just won a million bucks.

Mr. Yee had successfully fought City Hall and arranged an engineering feat that allowed his family to enter their condemned house for about an hour. Most important, Mr. Yee said, the family had saved their two precious Chinese vases from sliding into oblivion.


"I'm very, very happy, even under the circumstances," a rain-soaked Mr. Yee said, spreading his arms in a triumphant gesture. The house at 135 El Camino Del Mar, which the Yees have lived in for more than 20 years, sits at the edge of a massive sinkhole in the city's Sea Cliff district and was to be demolished yesterday.

The effort to save the Yees' house -- or at least the Chinese vases -- made national news after the huge sinkhole opened up early Monday. The crater swallowed the house next door and left the Yees' home teetering.


City officials told the Yees that their house was too fragile to enter and posted condemned signs.

But Mr. Yee persisted. He hired Sheedy Crane and Rigging Service, a private company, to bring in a crane and wrap a giant cable around the structure so the family could enter safely.

The Yees signed a waiver that released the city from liability if they were injured. About 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, after city employees and construction workers helped break open the locked front door, they stepped inside.

A dozen San Francisco firefighters formed a bucket brigade outside so the family could pass belongings down a flight of steps.

The family salvaged a grandfather clock, Oriental carpets, a chandelier and computers, as well as bag after bag of other belongings. Two station wagons and four other vehicles were filled with boxes and plastic bags -- as much as the family could gather before Public Works officials decided the house was shifting dangerously.

Among the last items to be packed into waiting vehicles were the two enamel vases, each about 3 feet high and intricately decorated with peacocks and floral patterns.

"I'm going to miss my home, but I'm happy we were able to get things out," said an exhausted but exhilarated Mr. Yee.

Sheedy Crane and Rigging Service supervisor Richard Battaini said the crane and cable were almost at their maximum load of 100,000 pounds. The cost to his company, he estimated, was about $6,000.