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Thursday, 15 August 2013

Sinkhole safety

Recently we have seen a number of sinkholes in Alberta. Sinkholes form when various ground surfaces (rock, soil, sand, etc) and the layer of earth beneath them are dissolved by water coming from the surface level. There are two types: those that form when the earth can no longer support itself and caves in suddenly, or those formed by the ground compressing, forming a depression in the landscape. In Canada, the most likely places for sinkholes to develop are where the land contains limestone.


Sinkholes arise as a result of poor drainage—when a depression in the ground collects water with nowhere on the ground's surface for it to drain off to. Instead, the water travels beneath the surface, weakening the stability of the ground altogether. This is particularly problematic when it happens near buildings and other structures, since their foundations can become easily destroyed this way. Of course, catastrophic sinkholes are capable of “swallowing” homes, vehicles, and portions of roads. That is the danger they pose structurally. Additionally, sinkholes can be a health hazard because they can introduce contaminants into the drinking supply of water.


Like tornadoes, nobody has quite yet figured out how to predict the formation of sinkholes. For this reason, the possibility of sinkholes should be among your list of possible hazards that may come about suddenly, that you should be on the lookout for. There are several signs that you can try to be aware of, and precautions that you can take in order to minimize the destruction of a sinkhole:

  • Know that sinkholes are more likely to occur during periods of ongoing, heavy rain.

  • Just as you would note rapidly rising water levels when trying to anticipate flash floods, the opposite should be noted as well: if streams and ponds that you are familiar with suddenly disappear, there is a good chance they have slipped beneath the surface of the ground.

  • Be sure to check traffic and weather reports regularly to catch news of sinkholes as soon as you can. If you are the first to observe one, contact authorities right away.

  • If you suspect a sinkhole on or near your property, keep heavy equipment and other such structures away from the are of suspected compromise.

  • If you have determined there is, in fact, a sinkhole on your property, contact your insurance provider right away for further instructions.

  • Bear in mind that sink holes may start out relatively small, and rapidly increase in size, so if you are fencing the area off, give the sinkhole plenty of room to “grow.”

  • Pay special attention to the formation of sinkholes that form near power and water lines, and report these immediately.

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