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  HOME | Central America

Scientists Can’t Explain Guatemala Sinkhole

By Carlos Arrazola

GUATEMALA CITY – Geologists are still unable to give a scientific explanation for the enormous sinkhole that opened in a residential area of the Guatemalan capital last weekend amid the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Agatha.

The area, which is still cordoned off by dozens of police and soldiers, was completely desolate Friday and the few remaining residents there were in an apparent hurry to move out of their nearby homes.

“We have no other option but to leave and find somewhere else to live, because we’re afraid another sinkhole is going to open,” Anibal Juarez, one of the last of the locals to leave his home, told Efe.

Geologists began Thursday a scientific investigation of the formation of this gigantic hole to find out the condition of the subsoil and establish the true causes.

The authorities’ preliminary explanation for the crater, which has an average diameter of 21.5 meters (70 feet) and a depth of 31.2 meters (102 feet), is that it was the result of an excessive load of ground water.

The sinkhole swallowed up a three-story apartment building that also contained a clothing factory, though none of the workers were there at the time of the sinkage.

Looking at the site gives one the impression that the construction, which was on a corner, was “cut” perfectly by a giant saw and separated from the neighboring buildings that did not fall into the pit.

The authorities, who have no idea if the incident took any lives, said that the site of the sinkhole has a drainpipe of the Guatemala City sewer system.

The association representing Guatemala’s engineers has said that the formation of these sinkholes is due to the lack of sewer maintenance.

The astonishing aerial photos of the phenomenon, which show the perfect circular form of its circumference, and which since Monday have been seen around the world, have fascinated the international press and sparked the discussion of all kinds of hypotheses on countless Internet portals and blogs.

Such a situation is not new to Guatemala. In February 2007, two people died, one went missing and another 720 had to be evacuated because of a similar sinkhole in a poor neighborhood on the north side of the capital.

That sinkhole, which swallowed up five poor homes and three of their inhabitants, was attributed at the time by the Municipal Water Company to the saturation of the sewer system in the area.

Two years later, the authorities invested close to $1.5 million to fill the hole with solids and concrete, but finally had to declare the area uninhabitable. EFE

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