More Subterranean Horror in Guatemala City


In February of 2007 I wrote about a giant sinkhole that had opened in Guatemala City. "The pit was emitting foul odors, loud noises and tremors, and a rush of water could be heard from its depths." These sinkholes are the same kind of geological feature as similar to the cenotes into which the Maya sacrificed people, gold, jade and copal resin.


And now it's happened again. Last weekend a tropical storm hit Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, killing at least 115 people and causing over 100 000 to be evacuated. And in Guatemala City,
another sinkhole opened, swallowing two buildings and possibly a security guard. Location here.

And check out Constantino Diaz-Duran's piece about the accident in The Daily Beast! Thanks to Brian Ries for the tip-off.

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I had heard that real estate in Guatemala City was in free fall, but I had always assumed they were referring to the prices.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 02 Jun 2010 #permalink

It's weird but this reminds me of an old U.S. urban legend which is generally set in Sweden. Scientists are trying to bore a hole to the center of the a certain depth the drill simply meets no resistance and at first there is a rush of heat and a foul odor escapes from the hole. From within the hole screams can be heard and crying...Harmless? Maybe, but while working in a home for troubled children I listened to an evangelical Christian tell the kids this as a "proof" that hell existed. Ironically a man I had met who worked for another Christian organization..youth for Christ claimed this man as a mentor. I know, more than a bit of a digression...but seeing this large hole and your information about it, can demonsrate that even urban legends might have a bit of grounding in an actual event...

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 02 Jun 2010 #permalink

wow. the first one looks perfectly circular!! The first thing that comes to mind is i wonder if this has something to do with maya prophecy and 2012 or something like that. Also, i would like to be there to see if there are actually weird voices that sound haunting. if there is i would definitely give hell my vote of belief, and if there isn't, well id just be pretty pissed off. ive heard multiple stories of holes like this, supposedly one in seattle or the washington region, but ive never actually seen one.

By sergio Rangel (not verified) on 02 Jun 2010 #permalink

Bee - Try a thought experiment. Imagine you have a sheet of cardboard held fixed in a horizontal plane. Drill a hole in it. Now cover it with fine sand. Run water into the surface of the sand, so that the water percolates down through the sand and runs through the hole in the cardboard, progressively taking particles of the sand with it. This will cause an internal erosion cavity in the sand that is progressively propagated upwards, until it reaches the surface, which will collapse. If the water has been distributed evenly, the resulting hole in the surface will be perfectly circular.

What we have modelled is a bed of limestone with a solution cavity in it, overlain by alluvium and then man-made ground. The water can be rainwater but could also include water from ruptured or leaking sewers or other water-bearing services.

Karst often occurs like that - sometimes as a surface outcrop, but often as sub-crop overlain by alluvium, so that it is not visible and self-evident at the surface, until a sinkhole forms, often by sudden collapse of the surface. That is why parts of cities have been built on concealed karst in quite a few parts of the world - if people didn't understand the geology or didn't drill down into it, they had no way of knowing it was there.

Sinkholes can also be caused accidentally by human activities like tunneling, but in Guatemala, I would strongly suspect that karst sub-crop is the basic cause. As noted by Martin, the Maya used cenotes, which are also a karstic feature.

By Sandgroper (not verified) on 02 Jun 2010 #permalink