Sinkholes Around the World: Recent Deaths, Causes and Prevention
The recent death of Jeff Bush in a Florida sinkhole has highlighted the dangers of these natural phenomena. Although sinkholes cause an average of 17 insurance claims a day in Florida alone, deaths are rare.
Recent Sinkhole Deaths in the United States
- September 17, 2013
A Missouri hunter went into the woods near his house to retrieve a deer he had killed earlier during the day. After he never returned home, authorities were notified. His body was found at the bottom of a 70 foot sinkhole. The sinkhole opened up a few days earlier due to heavy rains in the area.
- September 10, 2013
Flooding in Thessalon Canada opened up a roadway sinkhole. A motorcyclist, traveling the highway in the a storm hit the sink hole, falling from his bike into the sinkhole and subsequently dying.
- February 28, 2013
Around 11 PM, Jeff Bush was asleep in his bedroom when a large sinkhole opened up directly under the house, swallowing him and his entire bedroom. His brother heard him but was unable to see him or reach him. Authorities were forced to abandon the search for Bush several days later. The house was razed and used to fill in the remaining sinkhole area. Bush’s body was not recovered.
- July 14 2012
Thirty-two year old Sonia Lopez was driving down the road in Boise Idaho when her car hit a sinkhole that had suddenly appeared in the road. After investigation, authorities decided that the hole was formed when gopher tunnels filled with irrigation water from nearby farms. The combination of the two elements caused the road to become unstable and suddenly collapse. Lopez died from her injuries.
States With the Most Sinkholes
- July 14, 2011
A 15 year old Utah teenager was killed when a sinkhole suddenly opened up in the road. The sinkhole, caused from excessive rain, caused her father to careen off of the road. Another car actually drove into the sinkhole but the driver survived the incident.
Recent Sinkhole Deaths Around The World
- April 22, 2014
Three people died in north China, in Inner Mongolia after their house collapsed in a 150 foot sinkhole. Locals suspect that the sinkhole was caused by mining activity in the area.
- October 27, 2013
A family sleeping in their home in a province in Manilla were killed when a sinkhole suddenly engulfed the house. Two family members were rescued and four died.
- August 2, 2012
A Taiwanese man falls to his death after a massive sinkhole opened up where he was walking. The sinkhole was the result of massive rains that swept through the area from Typhoon Saola. Surveillance cameras captured the horrific moment.
- May 11, 2012
A family of four in Canada died when a sinkhole swallowed their entire home. Only the family dog survived the incident. The sinkhole was likely caused by a liquidizing of the clay dirt where the home was built.
- February 2007
Guatemala City residents were shocked to find a 30 story sinkhole suddenly appear. Two people died in the incident. The hole was caused by sewage and water eroding the bedrock underneath the ground.
What Causes Sinkholes?
According to USGS, sinkholes are often the results of water events such as floods or hurricanes. The water enters the ground and begins to dissolve the rock underneath, leaving air pockets that will eventually collapse. Rocks that can be dissolved by water include “salt beds and domes, gypsum, and limestone and other carbonate rock.”
Underground caves, either man made or natural, can also collapse because of water activity, pressure and erosion.
Sinkholes can also be caused by human activity such as mining, well digging and even the draining of water tables in periods of drought.
- Sinkhole Maps of Florida Counties
Outline maps of Florida's counties, displaying sinkholes of varying sizes. Some counties contain no sinkholes, and therefore do not have a sinkhole map associated with them.
Can Anything Be Done?
The best defense, according to authorities is to look around for tell-tale signs of formation. Signs of sinkholes include: “sagging trees or fence posts, doors or windows that no longer close properly, and rainwater collecting”
Some sinkholes can be filled in and the damage contained.
To prevent sinkholes in areas that are prone to them, insure that your home and property has good drainage.
Deaths Are Rare
Anthony Randazzo, a former University of Florida professor, points out that deaths from sinkholes are thankfully rare. Randazzo notes that they usually don’t appear suddenly and that paying attention to warning signs will help keep you and your family safe.
Will Climate Change Bring More Sinkholes?
Deadly sinkholes often make the news because they are rare, scary and seem unpredictable. While sinkholes have always been a natural occurrence, modern society and urban sprawl has made us much more aware of them.
As the world becomes more populated, people live in more and more areas susceptible to them.
Changing weather events associated with climate change such as floods and hurricanes may mean that we will see an increase in these over the next few years as water continues to move and change the land.