Thursday, 16th April 2009 by Alex Steinberger
Before 1980, Louisiana’s Lake Peigneur was a 3 metre deep freshwater lake, but due to a highly unusual man-made disaster, today it is a 60 m deep saltwater lake.
On the morning of November 20th, 1980, a group of Texaco Fuel Company workers drilling the lake for oil inadvertently broke through the lake bed into the upper reaches of the Diamond Crystal Salt Mine below. The water began to pour rapidly into the cavern left by the mining process, and soon the expanding sinkhole had swallowed the entire lake, the drilling platform, and 11 barges1!
Barges being pulled into the sinkhole
The suction that this sinkhole created was so powerful that it actually managed to reverse the flow of the Delcambre canal, a 12-mile-long waterway leading to the Gulf of Mexico. Once the lake itself had emptied, the inflow from this canal created a 50 m waterfall, the largest ever recorded in the state of Louisiana2.
Miraculously, everyone in close proximity to the sinkhole as well as the 55 workers in the flooded mine were able to escape with their lives. 9 of the 11 barges even managed to “pop” back up to the surface once water pressure had equalised!
Though Texaco was never charged with negligence due to a complete lack of evidence3, the Diamond Salt Company still managed to walk away with $32 million in an out-of-court settlement. Needless to say, they never went back into the salt-mining business.
Thanks to Gerald Talley and Terry Foster. There’s more info on Lake Peigneur at Wikipedia.