China's hungry infrastructure claims yet another victim.

You can spend your entire life dodging subway grates and manhole covers to prevent an accidental drop into the dark guts of the city. But there's nothing, absolutely nothing you can do to protect against sinkholes lurking below the most innocent-looking of sidewalks.

Two yelp-worthy plunges in China recently drove home the dangers of urban sinkholes. The first occurred in March to a woman strolling in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province in northwest China. A sidewalk opened up underneath her feet like a trapdoor to a gallows, pulling her 20 feet down into a water-filled abyss and knocking her unconsciousness. Firefighters eventually hauled her, crying, back into the world of light.

The hole was the work of the underground flow of water, according to the Toronto Sun, which attributes the original story to China Central Television. Here's a better video, albeit one with an annoying ad at the beginning. The poor woman kind of looks like the prisoner trapped in Buffalo Bill's basement in The Silence of the Lambs:

The second sinkhole story is much worse. On April 1, another woman was hurrying to work when the sidewalk gave way underneath her, the result of broken heating pipes from a nearby mansion. The hole was filled with steam and boiling water that instantly scorched her entire body; she perished a week later in the hospital. The gory details, from the Global Times:

"She suddenly fell in to this hole full of boiling water," Yang's colleague, surnamed Ma, told the Beijing News at the scene. "It was horrible, as I tried to help her up, her skin began to peel."

Somebody needs to better fund the municipal sewerage crews in China, because urban sinkholes and hot springs seem to be rampant nowadays. ChinaSMACK has this historical detail (N.B.: link includes a disturbing photo of a body):

On March, 16 last year, seven residents were scalded by hot water spraying from a hole in the Sidaokou area of Haidian district. It was later found to be caused by improper maintenance by [Beijing Heating System Group] staff according to the Beijing Evening News.

On a side note, southwest China is host to the largest sinkhole in the world. Xiaozhai Tiankeng is 2,171 feet deep and has a capacity of 390 million cubic feet. In China, tiankeng means something like "heavenly pit" – an appropriate if macabre term, given what happens to some of their victims.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man rides an electric scooter in Los Angeles.
    Perspective

    Why Do City Dwellers Love to Hate Scooters?

    Electric scooters draw a lot of hate, but if supported well by cities, they have the potential to provide a widespread and beneficial mode of transportation.

  2. People standing in line with empty water jugs.
    Environment

    Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ Water Crisis, One Year Later

    In spring 2018, news of the water crisis in South Africa ricocheted around the world—then the story disappeared. So what happened?

  3. black children walking by a falling-down building
    Equity

    White Americans’ Hold on Wealth Is Old, Deep, and Nearly Unshakeable

    White families quickly recuperated financial losses after the Civil War, and then created a Jim Crow credit system to bring more white families into money.

  4. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×