5 Amazing Facts About the Guatemala City Sinkhole

Plus 3 not-so-amazing facts

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The now-world-famous Guatemala City sinkhole, which opened following a recent tropical storm, is estimated to be 66 feet wide, 100 feet deep, and perfectly cylindrical in shape. It must be seen to be believed. Here are five amazing facts about the sinkhole and, as a bonus at the bottom, three not-so-amazing "facts."

  • Might Still Get Bigger Politics Daily's Carl Franzen warns the sinkhole may be "increasing in size and appetite." He writes, "The phenomenon of rapidly growing sinkholes is well documented, but the Guatemala case stands out precisely because the sinkhole is so enormous and in such an inconvenient location, at a major intersection. The sinkhole's potential growth is also problematic for repair efforts, as no work can be begun safely until the sinkhole has reached an equilibrium and stops...well, sinking, which could take up to several more days."
  • Could Be Caused by Sped-Up Geological Erosion Geologists David Bercovici and Mark Brandon tell Vanity Fair, "Sinkholes often appear in areas where the rock below the ground is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can be naturally dissolved by circulating ground water. As the sediment dissolves, caves and air pockets develop underneath the land surface. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces, then the ground collapses and results in a sinkhole. Natural depressions that collect water and man-made structures such as houses and streets with poor drainage are especially vulnerable to sinkholes. Heavy rainfall, like that from Tropical Storm Agatha, only accelerates the process."
  • Sewer System May Be to Blame The Christian Science Monitor's Sara Miller Llana reports, "The mayor Guatemala City, Álvaro Arzú, said there may be a relationship between the sinkhole and the city's 36-year old drainage system that runs 50-60 meters below the surface. He said, according to 21st Century, a Guatemala daily newspaper, that the country's disaster response agency, CONRED, is using an X-ray like machine to study the earth in the area of the sinkhole." Other reports cite "sewer or municipal water lines [that] might have eroded the ground and led to the collapse."
  • This Has Happened Before The Christian Science Monitor's Ezra Fieser recounts, "In 2007, three people were killed when a 100-foot deep sinkhole opened in another Guatemala City neighborhood. More than 1,000 people were evacuated from the area." Carl Franzen adds, "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."
  • How We Can Fix It Politics Daily's Carl Franzen explains three options. (1) Excavate and Filter; (2) Remediate and Cap Grout; (3) Underpin. That last one comes from "Sinkhole attorneys Marshall Thomas Burnett, a firm specializing in filing claims for those whose properties are affected by the appearance of sinkholes." Click through for descriptions of each process.

3 Not-So-Amazing Sinkhole 'Facts'

  • You Can Throw Stuff in It Death and Taxes blogger Matt Kiebus helpfully contributes "fun stuff to toss in" the sinkhole. His 12-item list includes such throwables as Miller Lite bottles and BP CEO Tony Hayward.
  • Sinkhole Has Biblical Precedent BeliefNet's Mark Herringshaw quotes Psalm 46:2: "Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." To be fair, Herringshaw also urges prayer for the victims of the sinkhole as well as the tropical storm that caused it.
  • The Best Car to Jump a Sinkhole Car blog Jalopnik's Matt Hardigree asks, "Assuming you were airlifted in to the country with a vehicle of your choice -- what would you take and what would your strategy be for avoiding death?" His answer: "Personally, I'd pick a Caterham R500 to traverse the dangerous streets of Guatemala City. The insane 2.0-liter Ford-powered roadster has classic Caterham agility to avoid sinkholes, 520 hp-per-ton power to speed away from an earth opening beneath your feet, a low 1,115-lb weight to help leap over any obstacles, and an open roof in case you can't do any of those things and need to bail in a hurry."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.