7 Crazy Sinkholes & What You Need to Know About Them
It’s Monday morning. You smell a whiff of hazelnut from your steaming cup of dark roast coffee, and it perks you up from your early hour grogginess. Traffic moves at its usual crawl. Besides a few honking horns and a minor fender bender accident along the roadside, the morning is uneventful. But the ground starts rumbling. You pause, look around, and see the asphalt crack open. And before you can guess what’s about to happen, you along with the car in front and beside you descend beneath the road, hearing nothing but clanks and thuds as metal collides with asphalt. You’re surrounded by dirt and pipes. Your ears ring, your heart pounds. However, you’re alive, unhurt and now, fully awake.
You’ve just fallen into a sinkhole. Unfortunately, the experience isn’t isolated to something that you’d see from a scene in an action flick – real people have survived to tell their experiences with falling into sinkholes. Now why are we talking about this? We’re not trying to make you fearful, just aware of this increasingly common road hazard, and what you can do to prepare yourself in the unlikely event that you fell into one (it’s actually very rare).
In early August of this year, in Brooklyn, a massive sinkhole opened at the Fifth Avenue and 64th Street intersection at Sunset Park. The collapse occurred at 7:30 am, almost taking the street corner with it. Fortunately, there were no reports of injuries or significant damage other than what happened to the road and some water lines supplying businesses that were cut off.
Licking County, Ohio
In the spring of 2014, a large sinkhole opened along a rural road in Licking County, Ohio, filling up with water, which washed the pavement away. The road was closed both ways while repair crews worked to fix the damage. The probable cause of the sinkhole was a combination of heavy rain and wear-and-tear.
Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
The scene pictured above (taken on January 7, 2015) comes from Guilin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (yes, it’s a mouthful) in China. It looks like the set of a monster movie, but it’s a real example of what can result from excessive over-extraction of minerals coupled with weak infrastructure can do. This collapse also illustrates how human activity is increasing the occurrences of sinkholes.
Understandably, this 2010 “sinkhole” in Guatemala City, Guatemala looks surreal, perhaps, photoshopped. It isn’t. Officials have labelled it as a “piping feature” due to its cause – erosion of the city’s underground infrastructure due to it sitting on unsolidified, volcanic rock, and torrential downpours from tropical storm Agatha. The hole is 300 feet (100 meters) deep, and 60 feet (18 meters) wide. Unfortunately, the event resulted in 15 deaths, and was deemed an ongoing risk to 300 people. The collapse also swallowed a three-story building.
San Fernando Valley, California, USA
This photo also looks doctored. However, it too, is real. The sinkhole shown above opened on a residential street in the San Fernando Valley in California in 2009, due to a water main burst. Luckily, the firefighters inside the truck escaped without any injury despite water and mud filling inside the vehicle. The broken main that caused the sinkhole hasn’t been updated since 1914.
In 2013, the city of Samara (previously known as Kuybyshev) in Russia, garnered worldwide media attention online for its “epidemic of sinkholes”. Over a span of weeks, residents witnessed vehicles of all types fall into collapsed road sections. Experts theorized that thawing ice melting into the ground (from winter transitioning to spring) was the reason for all of the sudden sinkholes.
Port Melbourne, Australia
In December 2014, a sinkhole disrupted the flow of traffic on Liardet Street in Port Melbourne, Australia. A water main was to blame. The hole swallowed three cars, and the flood that caused it inundated up to 50 homes. Fortunately, repair crews arrived at the scene within 15 minutes.
Comforting Facts About Sinkholes
These images are frightening and sobering, considering they’re happening all over the world. Climate change, urbanization, and over-extraction of ground minerals have all been listed as causes for why sinkholes have become so common. You might not want to imagine yourself in such a situation. However, there are some important facts to keep in mind about them.
The Reality Behind Sinkholes
- Sinkholes almost never result in fatalities – The idea of the Earth swallowing a vehicle full of people in it sounds like a nightmare. In the moment, such an experience is scary. However, the majority of drivers who have fallen into a sinkhole, were rescued with minimal or no injuries. It’s not pleasant falling underground, but rarely is it life-threatening.
- Sinkholes have identifiable causes – Experts are not in the dark when it comes to sinkholes. Although some people may think of sinkholes as supernatural or a strange phenomena, their causes are well-understood. That leads us to the next point.
- Sinkholes do produce warning signs – Before sinkholes open, they produce plenty of warning signs including fence posts that sag or slump, as well as trees than lean. This isn’t so easy to notice, but it’s worth reporting if you notice it. It’s even better to take an alternate route if you feel that roadway is unsafe. Additionally, it’s wise to remain on guard if your city was recently hit by major flooding, a hurricane or an earthquake – these disasters can all produce sinkholes.
Sinkholes Aren’t a Dead End
You will most likely never find yourself in a sinkhole. In fact, the majority of sinkholes that occur don’t involve any drivers at all, so you can drive in peace. However, if it were to happen, you can rest assured that you will most likely not face an injury of any kind, and emergency assistance will get you out of there quickly. So the next time you see or hear a news report about a sinkhole, you won’t panic. Rather, you’ll know that even if they’re scary, they’re far from being death traps.