Increase in giant sinkhole phenomenon worries Ecuador

The frequency of the appearance of sinkholes in Ecuador worries the country. The phenomenon –of natural causes, most of the time– is represented by the sudden appearance of a hole in the ground and it reaches from 22 Ecuadorian provinces.

The incidence of sinkholes is regularly portrayed by the local press, especially when it occurs in the middle of the city, when it causes panic among the residents. Increasingly, the fear of seeing the earth open up underfoot is greater: this year, the phenomenon occurred 93 times in Ecuador, 50% more than in 2020 (53 records) and also higher than 2019, when it occurred 74 times.

The last sinkhole happened on Wednesday (22), destroying a dozen houses and a road near the Andean village of Chimbo. The ground gave way in the middle of the night. Five families were affected, and this time no one died.

In most cases, the phenomenon happens due to natural causes, as a consequence of torrential rains, drying of the water tables or the collapse of underground caves. But sometimes, the person responsible for the appearance of the opening is the man.

Two weeks ago, in the south of the country, houses and schools collapsed in Zaruma, a small town 50 kilometers of underground tunnels illegally built by clandestine miners.

In February 2020, it was the turn of the most famous waterfall in Ecuador, from 150 meters high, disappear.

“I was at my place and I was surprised when a hole ten meters in diameter opened up in the Coca River. 22 meters and, in two weeks, the São Rafael waterfall was gone”, recalls the tourist guide Jairo Cabrera, who lived off the income from visits to the site. “Now, we no longer have the biggest and most beautiful waterfall in the country”, he laments.

Since then, the São Rafael sinkhole has caused an erosion phenomenon that destroys the river’s streams and threatens even the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant, the largest in Ecuador.

Experts have not reached a consensus on the causes of the phenomenon: some point out that the cascade was located in an area with strong seismic activity, but others point out that the construction of the dam destabilized the soil.

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