Large sinkhole in New Jersey
The large sinkhole in New Jersey, believed to have been caused by an underground water main break.Reuters

A sinkhole at least 20 feet deep and 15 feet across appeared in New Jersey, swallowing up a car.

A local resident told NJ.com one of his neighbours alerted the police when he noticed his son's car missing – and thought it had been stolen.

When police officers arrived at the scene, they discovered the vehicle at the bottom of the sinkhole.

Three homes had to be evacuated, said Chief Michael Geraltowski of the South Amboy Fire Department.

The sinkhole leads to a wooded area without homes and Geraltowski said none of the nearby homes suffered damage.

However, the sinkhole is continuing to grow, Geraltowski said, but there's no ongoing danger to homes in the area.

"The damage is done," he added.

No one was reported injured by the sinkhole which is believed to have occurred because of a break in a water main. Residents reported seeing water running through their back gardens for several days.

The sinkhole appeared to be getting larger and was spreading in the direction of woodlands.

Camille Tooker, the city business administrator, said crews would continue work to fix the water main break and stabilise the road area. The sinkhole will be filled with dirt, rocks and other objects.

The biggest sinkhole in the world appeared in Russia and measures 80 metres wide. It opened up in the area of Yamal, a place locals appropriately call the "end of the world".

Scientists don't know what caused it, leading to various theories including a crashed UFO, global warming and a meteorite crashing into earth.