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Guatemala City, Guatemala

Great Guatemalan Sinkhole

An enormous, 30-story-deep hole in the middle of Guatemala City. 

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Guatemala City has had experience with sinkholes before: In 2007, three people and a dozen homes here suddenly disappeared into the earth. But no one was prepared for anything like this.

On Sunday, May 30, 2010, an enormous hole, 60 feet wide and 30 stories deep, opened up in the middle of Guatemala City, swallowing a three-story building, a home, and local reports claimed that one man was killed when the building was swallowed.

Generally, sinkholes are caused by underground rivers or stores of water which erode bedrock and cause the ground above to collapse. Guatemala City is largely built on weak materials such as volcano pumice, however, and as such its sinkholes open extraordinarily quickly, leaving little time for escape.

Most geologists are chalking the new sinkhole’s opening up to Tropical Storm Agatha. At least one specialist thinks the sinkhole may have been caused by broken underground pipes gushing water underneath the building, and Guatemalan officials are rushing to find the pipe, stop the leak, and fill in the hole, or else risk the hole widening. But getting construction crews to fill in a hole this large could take years, especially in the slums of Guatemala, where transportation is slow at best.

With the risk of other sinkholes opening in the city “high,” according to National Geographic, Mayor Álvaro Arzú may have his hands (if not his sinkholes) full for awhile.

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