A colossal sinkhole that opened up overnight in August 2012 in the rural Louisiana town of Assumption Parish has continued to expand at a staggering rate, devouring with it land and trees as documented in a new video that was uploaded on Tuesday.
The three-minute YouTube video was posted to an account run by the Assumption Parish Police Jury. The video shows about a dozen trees on the outside of a berm in the sinkhole suddenly swallowed in less than a minute. Six seconds into the video, the trees slowly begin to sink. At 41 seconds, their tops are no longer visible above the bubbling water.
The sinkhole, which has displaced 150 families in Bayou Corne, La., has eluded local efforts to contain it for more than a year. According to OpEd News, it is now approximately 28-acres-wide. Local environmentalists said the sinkhole constitutes “an unprecedented environmental disaster.”
Until recently, the issue received scant media coverage. Mother Jones in August published a feature with the headline: “Meet the Town That’s Being Swallowed by a Sinkhole.” The article included interviews with ecological experts who seemed to corroborate local suspicion that the sinkhole was likely caused by a cave in of a nearby abandoned underground salt dome.
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"When you keep drilling over and over and over again, whether it's into bedrock or into salt caverns, at some point you have fractured the integrity of this underground structure enough that something is in danger of collapsing," ecologist Sandra Steingraber told the magazine. "It's an inherently dangerous situation."
Assumption Parish residents first became concerned last spring when they noticed unusual bubbling in the Grand Bayou, according to OpEdNews, which describes itself as a progressive, liberal publication. Residents reported that the water smelled of fuel and sulfur. Months later, a sinkhole “the size of three football fields” appeared in the ground, eventually forcing some 350 residents to pack their belongings and evacuate. More than a year since its abrupt appearance, the sinkhole now measures roughly 15 acres.
The Assumption Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness has said that the sinkhole doesn't pose a danger to other homes in the area. Texas Brine, the company that owns the collapsed salt dome, had been sending weekly checks to displaced residents as of May, the Associated Press reported.
Sinkholes can occur naturally or as a result of pollution, often without warning. They're most prevalent in areas such as Florida with karst terrain, land with underlying soluble rocks or groundwater. About 20 percent of the nation's topography is predisposed to sinkholes, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The Bayou Corne sinkhole has prompted worried residents and environmentalists to share news of the disaster on Twitter as well as on a community Facebook page and blog site. Several concerned parties have singled out Texas Brine for not taking responsibility for the sinkhole sooner and for not doing more to prevent it from affecting the surrounding land.
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich -- whose successful fight against a California power plant over contaminated groundwater was portrayed in the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich” -- is involved in the Louisiana case and has urged residents to take legal action, the Baton Rouge Advocate reports. Lawyers working with Brockovich filed a class action suit on behalf of 57 individual plaintiffs and three local businesses.