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Erath, Louisiana

Lake Peigneur

A miscalculation turns a very shallow freshwater lake into a very deep saltwater lake. 

Near the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana sits what at one time was a small freshwater lake.

At under 11 feet deep, Lake Peigneur was a popular fishing and recreation spot. However, on the morning of November 20, 1980, all of that changed when one of the largest man-made maelstroms in history flushed the lake, barges, big-rig trucks, houses, 65 acres of surrounding land and a Texaco oil rig down an enormous vortex.

Early that morning the Wison Brothers drilling crew knew something was amiss when their 14” drill bit became stuck and the entire platform shook. What they didn’t know was that they had mistakenly drilled through the ceiling of the long-established Diamond Crystal salt mine below. Wisely, they abandoned the structure and once safely on shore, watched in horror as their entire 150 foot rig sank like a magic trick into the shallow lake. Meanwhile, hundreds of feet below, the 55 salt mine workers were scrambling to escape as water poured into the mine. Miraculously there were no fatalities or serious human injuries that day thanks to well-rehearsed evacuation procedures. Several dogs were not so lucky.

The damage from the all-consuming whirlpool was catastrophic and is still present today. The freshwater lake became permanently salinated with devastating effects on the ecosystem as brackish water from Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay poured in via a newly formed 50-ft. waterfall and compressed air from the mine shafts created 400-foot geysers. 

Texaco and Wilson Brothers drilling company agreed to pay damages in out-of-court settlements; $32 million and $12.8 million to Diamond Crystal and Live Oak Gardens respectively. The mine, which had been in operation for over 100 years, closed in 1986.

Contributed by
B Beth
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