Sinkholes: The Natural Depressions That Devour Properties

SinkholesSinkholes are the stuff of nightmares all over the world, with the thought that anytime, the earth could open up and suck everything in its wake. Lately, the subject of sinkholes has appeared on the press due to several incidents in the US, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.

In July this year, the entire body of a digger machine appears to have sunk into the ground at a site on St John’s St in Woolston in Christchurch, New Zealand due to a sinkhole. In November, a sinkhole swallowed a massive, football-sized part of a beach in Queensland, Australia, and experts think it can grow even larger. In Florida, a sinkhole also caused four homes to be evacuated after it opened up between two homes in the neighbourhood.

What are Sinkholes and What Causes Them?

Sinkholes, also called a swallow hole, snake hole, doline or swallet, are natural depressions in the surface of the Earth. They are big, they seem to appear out of nowhere and they can ‘swallow’ houses and buildings in half a second.

Sinkholes are caused by geological and man-made conditions. Geological sinkholes occur due to karst processes or the collapse of the surface layer, typically because of a falling water table. They develop over many years and need specific conditions to form. Man-made sinkholes, on the other hand, happen for many reasons, including building on reclaimed ground or landfill.

Safeguarding Properties from Sinkholes

Cracks in the dry walls, leaks in the ceiling, wet areas inside the building, mildew around the foundation and low or sunken areas are all signs of sinkhole activity. To protect your property, hire geotechnical engineering or architectural design consultants to determine if the foundation can experience sinkhole activity.

If a sinkhole has already occurred, experts warn property owners to avoid fixing the problem themselves. Many simply fill the holes and depressions, which is a Band-Aid solution that only camouflages the underlying issue.

There is no training anyone can give you for the panic you will feel when a 50-foot hole suddenly appears on your residential or commercial property. As long as you equip yourself with ample knowledge about the subject, fortunately, you can stay cool when it occurs.