John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
A sinkhole in Guangzhou has eaten six shops, a sidewalk and several trees.
When preparing for a trip to China, it might be useful to memorize a few basic Chinese phrases. You know, like "Thank you," "Where is the bathroom?" and "Please call the authorities, I am trapped in a sinkhole."
The last time this site checked in on China's sinkhole woes, in early 2012, it was for a rash of small but spiteful pits that were dragging pedestrians beneath the sidewalks. Since then, there's been many a hole to violently rip the earth apart throughout the country – a chasm that spurred an 800-person evacuation in Guangxi Province, a 33-foot-deep crevice that ate four people in Harbin, a sudden perforation in the road that swallowed a whole bus. Caixin Online reports that an astounding 99 sinkholes popped up around Beijing last summer, all in the course of about three weeks.
And now there's another tremendous one, in Guangzhou, a major city of about 13 million people in southeast China. The chain reaction of collapses kicked off Monday afternoon near a construction site in the Liwan district, where workers nervously noticed the ground around them easing downward. They managed to evacuate the site before the pavement abruptly plummeted into a black void, releasing showers of electrical sparks and geysers of water from broken pipes.
A couple hours and additional cave-ins later, the yawning orifice had fed itself with a few large trees, a hunk of sidewalk and several unoccupied buildings, reports Shanghaiist. The hole was working on building No. 6, which it had torn in half, when a construction crew plugged up its gullet with a river of concrete. Nobody was injured.
While the authorities are looking into the cause of the major cavity, which reached depths of 30 feet, it may have had something to do with a nearby subway-tunnel project. Indeed, many of China's urban sinkholes can be traced to energetic and sometimes haphazard construction work in rapidly developing cities. Holes aren't the only perilous side effect of this aggressive push toward urbanization, either. According to the Daily Mail:
Six major bridges have collapsed across the country since July last year.
In September, 19 construction workers in the centre of the country were killed after a lift plummeted 30 floors, while a man walking through a building site in the east narrowly escaped death when a metal bar went through his head.
A month earlier, an explosion in a Chinese coal mine killed 26 miners and left others trapped in the carbon monoxide-filled pit for a day.
Mainland China's wondrous holes have spread to Taiwan, too. Look at this TV reporter covering a sidewalk collapse get the bejeesus scared out of her by yet another sidewalk collapses: