Guatemala City Sinkholes


Punching a Hole in the Earth

Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.

- Sholom Aleichem

You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein

This is common in limestone karst areas.  Karst is limestone rock eaten away by runoff water which turns into sulfuric acid when combined with the rock, thus forming caves or sinkholes.  Over half of the US is sitting on karst formations...

A three-story building in northern Guatemala City fell into a sinkhole in May 2010.
Source: from

Besides the sinkhole, during the same period, Guatemala experienced torrential rains triggering floods, 140 landslides, and falling boulders.  To cap it all, Pacaya, a volcano just south of Guatemala City, erupted, blanketed the capital in ash, destroyed 800 homes, and forced the closing of the city's international airport.

A closer view of the May 2010 Guatemala sinkhole.  It measured 66 feet across and 100 feet deep.
Source: (a fascinating slideshow that shows sinkholes in Sao Paulo, Taiwan, Quebec
and also Tennessee, Georgia, California, Pennsylvania, Washington, Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Florida, and the District of Columbia)


This is an aerial view of the scene where a structure collapsed in Guatemala City 23  February 2007.  A giant sinkhole swallowed several homes and at least one truck and officials said at least three people have been reported missing.  Star / AP


Aerial view of the huge hole caused after a collapse in the sewage system in the neighbourhood of San Antonio, north of Guatemala city.  Hundreds are being evacuated as a precaution against more possible collapses.  ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP/Getty Images


A 330-foot-deep sinkhole opened up before dawn, killing two teenage siblings, Irma and David Soyos, and their father Domingo Soyos, 53, when it swallowed about a dozen homes and forced the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people in a crowded Guatemala City neighbourhood.  Officials blamed recent rains and an underground sewage flow from a ruptured main for the tragedy.  The pit stank, growled and shook the surrounding ground.  Water could be heard in the depths.  Authorities fear it could widen or other sinkholes open up.

Residents had heard noises and felt vibrations for weeks.

Sources: 24 February 2007,

Since this happened twice in three years, there's a greater risk that it could happen again.  Geologist Sam Bonis, who worked in Guatemala's geographical institute for 16 years, claims that it may happen anywhere in the city.  The Guatemala sinkholes of 2007 and 2010 caused some buildings to fall down, but relatively few people were hurt.  However, that may just make it a matter of time before it happens in an area with more people.


See also:

bulletLogging Threatens Mystical World (In the Environment section) - Underfoot lies another world, even more ancient: a dark labyrinth of caves and subterranean streams carved through limestone and marble bedrock.  Huge sinkholes, pits and vertical crevices called grikes riddle the forest, channeling water downward, where it may flow for miles before emerging.  This landform, characterised by subsurface drainage, is known as karst.
bulletMadagascar Karst (further on in this section) - This geological formation, called a karst, is the result of erosion, as acid rains have gradually dissolved the stone of the chalky plateau and carved out sharp ridges that can rise to heights of 95 feet (30 m).  This nearly impenetrable labyrinth (tsingy is the Malagasy term for "walking on tiptoe") shelters its own unique flora and fauna, which have not been completely recorded...
bulletThe Zacatón Cenote (further on in this section) - Cenotes are karst formations which occur when underground water etches away at limestone bedrock to form enormous subterranean caverns.  Eventually the cavern roofs collapse leaving deep circular rock pools.  The word cenote is a Spanish rendering of the Mayan word d'zonot which means literally "a hole in the ground"...
bulletBryce Canyon (in the Photographs section) - for a lovely aerial shot of karst fins...

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