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How Tunnel Girl's DIY storm shelter took over TikTok — then turned people against her

Sirena Bergman   

How Tunnel Girl's DIY storm shelter took over TikTok — then turned people against her
  • In 2022, a TikToker began documenting an elaborate underground construction in her home.
  • As her videos gained traction, people began questioning the safety and ethics of her project.

What began as a characteristically quirky TikTok anecdote of a person on a curious home renovation-style mission has become a messy source of debate, speculation, and even political contention in recent days as the strange story has unraveled.

At the center of the drama is a TikTok account called @engineer.everything. It's run by a woman known only as Kala, and the account's posts date back to October 2022, when she announced she would be building a "storm shelter at the side of my basement."

Over time, her project became increasingly ambitious. Dozens of videos show her — often wearing pearls and perfectly manicured nails alongside her construction hat — drilling into underground rock, pouring concrete, and installing support beams. Some also show the exterior of her home, where she appears to have a debris disposal system set up and an industrial-sized dumpster.

By August 2023, Kala referred to her project as an "underground tunnel system." She also began posting videos about "mining" the ground she was excavating for precious metal. Fans of her account eagerly followed along.

What she's involved in isn't new — it's known as "hobby tunneling," a passion for underground digging typically associated with men. Stories of people engaged in tunneling have gone viral in the past, and the subreddit r/Digging is populated by hundreds of enthusiasts.

But Kala appears to be the first person to share such detailed, real-time footage of a project. Her one-year recap of the project in August garnered millions of views and launched a growing wave of interest in subsequent months.

But with virality comes scrutiny, and the surge in interest in her content could spell the downfall of Kala's account — and her tunnel.

@engineer.everything

Should I go deeper? #engineering #minecraft #secrettunnel #construction #mining #diy

♬ Beautiful Paradise - Aga Alamsyah

Viewers became increasingly concerned about the safety of Kala's project

Over the past year, viewers have questioned whether Kala is qualified to undertake the complex construction work depicted in the videos.

She has repeatedly acknowledged that she has no formal training, but believes she can teach herself the necessary skills to perform the work safely. In one comment under a July video, she clarified that she is an engineer, as her TikTok handle suggests, but a computer engineer, not a civil or structural one as many people presumed.

Many of her videos disclose issues she's run into along the way, with some appearing dangerous, like exposed wiring in electrical equipment, crumbling structures, and even a fire breaking out in the underground space, leading viewers to continue expressing concern.

In late summer, content began popping up online discussing her increasing virality. TikTokers posted baffled reactions to her project as others provided explainers; Reddit threads speculating about her situation and motivations received hundreds of comments.

In November, Kala was interviewed by NBC News, clarifying that the project wasn't a "doomsday bunker."

"I'm not really a prepper or concerned about that kind of thing at all, but I just thought it would be neat to have, like, a little protective shelter area," she told the outlet. "And so I started working on that. And also, it's a challenge, and I live for challenges. It keeps me preoccupied and keeps me entertained."

Despite concern over her credentials and whether she'd obtained the appropriate planning permits, Kala was perceived as a harmless and charming — if a little eccentric — TikTok character.

@doink.mcgoo

#stitch with @Kala strip mining irl

♬ Beautiful Paradise - Aga Alamsyah

After her story went viral, people began debating the ethics of her project

In late December, videos expressing concern about the impact Kala's project was having on her neighbors began to circulate. Some speculated about how disruptive and potentially worrying it would be to have someone digging underground just next door. Others defended her, suggesting the assumption that she didn't know what she's doing was sexist.

NBC News reported that she "declined to get into specific detail about any permits she may have obtained," although she said she was following local regulations for the building of emergency shelters.=

Then on December 31, Kala responded to rumors that her project was being shut down with a video explaining that local city officials had halted it.

@engineer.everything

Replying to @dogs.bestfriend Sadly yes, but we are working it out. #engineering #mining #tunnel #permits #construction

♬ Suspenseful and tense orchestra(1318015) - SoLaTiDo

"So they did give me a stop-work order and are requiring an immediate evaluation by a professional engineer," she said, before assuring viewers that "it shouldn't be too hard to get the permits and approval."

The video received 1.9 million views and over 6,000 comments, many expressing shock that she seemed to have spent a year and a half digging without permission.

On January 2, her story appeared to be confirmed by a Washington, DC, FOX affiliate. FOX5 reported that a spokesperson for the town of Herndon, Virginia, said a local home had received a visit from authorities after reports of a potential building code violation.

In an email statement to Business Insider, a spokesperson for the town of Herndon confirmed the inspection occurred and said that "the town is working with the property owner to correct any violations." They did not comment further regarding whether the home in question was linked to the TikTok account.

However, FOX5 reported receiving a tip identifying the home, which two residents confirmed matched the property in Kala's videos. The outlet was unable to speak to Kala, but reported that a woman at the home in question confirmed a person by that name lived there.

Meanwhile, allegations about Kala's relationship with her neighbors went viral

By the end of the year, all the chatter and speculation around Kala's circumstances had caught the eye of Aura Bogado, a senior reporter at The Center for Investigative Reporting, who wondered specifically about the impact all this was having on Kala's neighborhood.

In response to a comment under Kala's re-enactment video asking about her neighbors, Kala said she had "taken a lot of precautions to make sure they are not harmed. That is one of the primary concerns." This echoed her comments in her NBC interview, where she said her relationship with her neighbors was positive and suggested they were aware of her project.

But on December 30, Bogado posted a TikTok video disputing this account.

She said she had tracked down Kala's location and contacted her neighbors, discovering many of them were "migrants from Central America" who chose not to report the digging despite their health and safety concerns because they were worried about immigration authorities.

"The power dynamics between Kala and her neighbors are wildly imbalanced," she said, and called out white TikTokers for defending Kala's actions. "This tunnel isn't really only about a tunnel. It's about more. It's about race, it's about representation, it's about privilege, it's about boundaries, it's about equity or the lack thereof," Bogado argued.

@aurabogado

#stitch with @derek the solarboi ⚡️ Kala’s neighbors didnt know—and she flaunted that for her audience. #Kala #TunnelGirl #migrants #equity

♬ original sound - Aura Bogado

BI has been unable to verify Bogado's claims, and Bogado did not immediately respond to a request for comment. When contacted via TikTok direct message, Kala declined to comment for this article.

While some of Kala's defenders stood firm in the comments, many others appeared swayed by the allegations.

One formerly pro-Kala creator, Derek the Solarboi, said he re-evaluated his presumption that the neighbors must have known and would have contacted authorities if they had a problem with her project (something many viewers seemed to assume). He acknowledged the white-suburban-centric lens that led him to that conclusion.

Another former fan of Kala's videos argued that the whole debacle shows how "spectacle culture" can blind viewers to the potential harms of the increasingly extreme things creators do to go viral online.

"Myself and many other people saw that and thought nothing of it. I honestly thought she was a girl boss for doing all that herself," the said. "Spectacle culture has really encouraged and exacerbated this problem."


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