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Giant Guatemala Sinkhole: How Common Are Huge Spontenous Holes in the Ground?

5 years ago
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This weekend, Guatemala was the site of several severe overlapping natural disasters: First, a volcano erupted on Friday, raining ash down upon the country's capital, Guatemala City. On Saturday, the season's first tropical storm, Agatha, made landfall in the country, killing at least 145, injuring many more, and leaving countless properties damaged. And then the torrential rains from the storm weakened the ground enough to create a sinkhole as large as an intersection (50 feet wide and 65 feet deep, according to Boing Boing), seemingly fufilling the old axiom "bad things come in threes."

The sinkhole reportedly killed one security guard as it swallowed the whole building where he was working. The Guatemalan government posted an aerial photo of the sinkhole on Flickr (in Hi-Res, no less) where it quickly circulated around the Web.

sinkhole in Guatemala

The sinkhole also stars in this video by IVP, a Polish TV channel (see below).

Sinkholes are actually quite common in the country, and throughout North America. In Guatemala, a much larger one opened in 2007, killing three people. It was reportedly the result of a broken stormwater drain.

According to the United States Geological Survey, sinkholes are not only formed in such dire conditions as those experienced in Guatemala this weekend. They are common anywhere "where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by ground water circulating through them."

The USGS continues:
As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. Sinkholes are dramatic because the land usually stays intact for a while until the underground spaces just get too big. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces then a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur. These collapses can be small, as this picture shows, or they can be huge and can occur where a house or road is on top.
Just last month, a sinkhole opened in Quebec swallowing an entire house and killing the family inside. In the U.S., they are most common in the southern states, particularly Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida, where hundreds of smaller sinkholes have already been reported this year alone.
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