Amid a throng of onlookers, construction crews very carefully extricated a backhoe lying in a massive sinkhole Tuesday in downtown Montreal.

It took two cranes and several hours before the piece of construction equipment was lifted from the Ste. Catherine St. site around 6:30 p.m., where it had been stuck since Monday morning, when the ground gave way.

The operation was done in several steps. Natural gas lines in the area were turned first off, and job that took Gaz Metro crews  four hours Tuesday morning.

With evidence of the weakened ground in the neighbourhood right in front of them, workers meticulously decided where to place the cranes used to lift up the backhoe -- and where to put it down once it is extracted from the hole.

"The first step is to get this heavy equipment out of the hole," said Richard Deschamps, the councillor responsible for infrastructure, Tuesday.

"After that we have an assessment to do the work we have to do, and after that we will be able to give you the right information about how long it will take."

Ste. Catherine St. between St. Mathieu St. and Guy St. was closed Monday morning when city crews arrived to excavate the street and examine reports of a water main leaking underground.

When the backhoe started to dig through the asphalt, the ground opened up and swallowed the heavy equipment.

The operator was taken to hospital to be treated for shock, and there are no reports that he suffered any serious physical injuries.


Second excavation in seven months

Business owners in the neighbourhood are complaining about the shutdown to their block, the second such event since February.

Ghassan Haidar, owner of a Second Cup, says pedestrians are now using his store because the sidewalk is off-limits.

He jokes that it would be acceptable if more people were making purchases, but says the backhoe sinkhole is convincing people to avoid the area.

"We're all suffering and business is down, and like this is killing everybody," said Haidar.

The same block of Ste. Catherine St. was closed for two weeks in February as city crews repaired a 19th Century sewer line.

As construction workers replaced that brick-lined pipe they discovered a water main that was supposed to run near the sewer line did not exist.