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Work begins to plug sinkhole that swallowed 8 prized sports cars at National Corvette Museum

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A Kentucky museum devoted to Corvettes is ready to put a car-swallowing sinkhole in its rear view mirror.

Workers arrived Monday at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green to start plugging the hole that consumed eight prized sports cars in February. The sight of crumpled cars toppled like toys in the gaping pit turned into an Internet sensation.

It also became a popular attraction. People gawking at the hole revved up attendance and revenue at the museum, an hour north of Nashville, Tennessee. The museum cashed in by selling sinkhole-themed T-shirts, videos, postcards, and jars filled with sinkhole dirt and tiny pieces of car parts.

The hole opened up when the museum was closed, and no one was injured. Security camera footage showing the floor's collapse has been viewed nearly 8.4 million times on YouTube, the museum said. The damaged Corvettes were pulled from the hole to great fanfare.

Filling in the hole will cost $3.2 million and take about eight months to complete, museum Executive Director Wendell Strode said. Insurance will cover all but about $150,000 of the repairs, he said. The museum will remain open during construction, but the Skydome area where the sinkhole opened will be sealed off from visitors, who will be able to watch the repairs through a Plexiglas wall.

Museum officials said they had no second thoughts about plugging up a money maker. The option of keeping part of the 60-foot-long, 45-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep sinkhole open lost favor due to the costs of safety features and maintenance, officials said.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2014, file photo, cars lie in a sinkhole that opened up at the Skydome showroom in the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. Workers arrived at the museum on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014 to start plugging the hole that swallowed eight prized sports cars. Museum officials say security camera footage showing the floor’s collapse has been viewed nearly 8.4 million times on YouTube. (AP Photo/Michael Noble Jr., File)
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2014, file photo, cars lie in a sinkhole that opened up at the Skydome showroom in the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. Workers arrived at the museum on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014 to start plugging the hole that swallowed eight prized sports cars. Museum officials say security camera footage showing the floor’s collapse has been viewed nearly 8.4 million times on YouTube. (AP Photo/Michael Noble Jr., File)

"We're definitely going to miss the attraction and the interest that it brought," said museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli. "But we're hoping that people will enjoy and appreciate what we come up with to represent what happened."

The museum plans to memorialize the sinkhole in exhibits.

Since the hole opened, attendance shot up 71 percent, through October compared with a year ago, Frassinelli said.

During that time, nearly 225,000 people ventured off the nearby interstate to visit, beating the museum's yearlong attendance record of 201,000 in 1999, she said. This year's attendance also was spiked by the museum's 20th anniversary celebration.

David King made the trip from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to get a firsthand look at the sinkhole before construction started to fill it in. The retired electrician had always wanted to visit a place dedicated to his favorite vehicle.

"This was two in one for me," he said last week. "I got my bang for my buck here, seeing the hole and seeing the 'Vettes."

The hole will be filled completely with rock, then workers will drill into it to install steel casings, museum officials said. Crews will pour grout into the casings, creating a steel and concrete pillar to provide additional support under the floor.

Officials decided to restore three of the damaged cars. The other five were too badly beaten up. Those vehicles will be star attractions as permanent reminders of the day when the earth opened beneath the museum.

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