Let’s Dig (Back) Into the TikTok Tunnel Girl Drama
Kala has been digging a tunnel under her house in Fairfax County. She's maybe been ordered to vacate. As a former Fairfax County resident, I can’t look away.
Update (January 12): On Thursday, Aura Bogado, the investigative reporter who initially broke the news about Kala’s neighbors, posted that she uncovered a document issued by the town of Herndon on December 7 which states the town “has declared the structure and the residential structure an UNSAFE STRUCTURE” (emphasis theirs). Kala and any other occupants “are required to vacate the lower floor of the dwelling above the excavation and tunnel” until a licensed engineer can evaluate the project and say it’s safe. It’s unclear if she has actually done so, but in my mind, Kala will be Phantom-of-the-Opera-ing it down in that tunnel regardless of what the town of Herndon has to say. Original story below.
For over a year now TikTok has been transfixed by the story of Kala, aka Tunnel Girl, the woman who has been digging a tunnel under her suburban home. The 37-year-old posts regular updates of herself sawing through layers of dirt, constructing a DIY mine elevator, hand mixing concrete, and once told her 538.1K followers that she’s going to build a “castle tower” off the side of her house with the rocks she’s found. All this was background TikTok chatter to me until earlier this week, when Kala’s project was shut down by local authorities and I learned that Kala’s been constructing her tunnel in Fairfax County, Virginia–my hometown.
With my interest piqued, I decided to dig deeper into Kala’s story. This is what I unearthed.
Kala first took to TikTok in October 2022 to announce the start of a “new and complex” project to build a storm shelter in her basement. The project eventually grew into a thirty-foot-long, twenty-foot-deep tunnel, with Kala documenting the entire process on social media. But of all the suburbs Kala could have chosen, Fairfax may be the least suited for a rogue mining project.
A large subset of Fairfax County’s residents are government employees, including ex-military and the occasional FBI agent. In short, people who have made rules, rule-following, and the implementation of rules and regulations their life’s work. Fairfax County is also what I would unaffectionately call a Homeowner’s Association (HOA) paradise. Just ask my parents about the years-long battle brought on by my neighbor’s attempt to add French door handles to his garage. As I recently told a friend, You can’t even have a fun mailbox in Fairfax County. A tunnel with an adjoining castle tower? There is simply no way Fairfax would stand for that type of Florida behavior.
Despite her handle–@engineer.everything—Kala is not authorized to engineer anything. She has a business degree and works in tech, though she insists it “doesn’t take much for [her] to pick up a skill.” Given the known dangers of mining and the fact that Northern Virginia’s soil profile consists mostly of heavy clay and veins of naturally occurring asbestos, her lack of a civil engineering degree is concerning. Still, she maintained a healthy level of support on TikTok, and the tunnel project hit its one-year mark this past October.
The project will likely not hit year two. Her downfall began last week when investigative reporter Aura Bogado posted a TikTok saying she had tracked down Kala’s neighbors. Despite Kala’s claims that they knew about and approved of the project, it turns out her neighbors did not know and did not approve.
More disturbingly, Bogado found that Kala’s neighbors were mostly Central American migrants, many of whom do not speak English, and some of whom are undocumented. This made them trepidatious about bringing police into the neighborhood to investigate the “tremendous” amount of noise and “random shaking” coming from Kala’s lot. The potential exploitation of her immigrant neighbors added a level of ick to the story that’s brought a wave of negative attention, and the project has since been shut down.
Kala chose to announce this in the most hilarious way possible—with a dramatic reenactment posted to her TikTok of the police (who, for some reason, have Midwestern accents?) coming to her mine-house to stop any further construction.
But Kala seems unphased by this latest development, saying it “shouldn’t be too hard” to get the permits to continue. Unfortunately for Kala, this former Fairfax County resident is less optimistic about the likelihood of her project restarting anytime soon. Hopefully, her followers won’t mind seeing her content pivot from videos of weekly rock excavations to videos of tedious form-filling and trips to city hall. At the very least, I hope she keeps the dramatic reenactments coming. That’s where she may have truly found her niche–at much less expense to her neighbors.