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7 terrifying sinkhole disasters
A golfer who fell into an 18-foot hole in the Earth is only the latest victim of these seemingly spontaneous natural depressions
 
Be careful: You never really know when you might be swallowed alive by a sinkhole.
Be careful: You never really know when you might be swallowed alive by a sinkhole. AP Photo/Courtesy Golfmanna

Sinkholes appear to be frighteningly instantaneous — one moment you're on the 14th hole at a golf course in Waterloo, Ill., and the next moment you're 18 feet below the ground. But technically, sinkholes develop over time in subterranean areas that can't drain properly. A buildup of water slowly dissolves rock, creating caverns that eventually break the surface, sometimes in a horrifically dramatic way. Luckily, the golfer in this case, Mark Mihal, survived his surprising plummet, and friends managed to hoist him to safety with a rope within 20 minutes. But other people, residences, and major city thoroughfares haven't been so lucky. Let's take a trip down memory hole lane.

1. The Florida sinkhole that swallowed a man: Jeff Bush, a 37-year-old husband and father, was in his Florida bedroom on Feb. 28 when the Earth opened up, swallowing him and everything in his room whole. The expansive hole was about 20 feet wide, and had been almost completely hidden by the house as it grew and shifted. The five other people in the home escaped unharmed. Jeremy Bush tried to save his brother by jumping into the hole, but then had to be rescued himself. Three days later, the search for Bush's body was called off, as the ground was considered too unstable and dangerous to continue. The house (see it above) was razed, and nearby homes were evacuated. "There's hardly a place in Florida that's immune to sinkholes, says Sandy Nettles, a geology consultant in Tampa. "There's no way of ever predicting where a sinkhole is going to occur." (Edward Linsmier/Getty Images)

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2. The Guatemalan sinkhole 30 stories deep: On May 30, 2010, a massive sinkhole "crashed into being" in Guatemala City, Guatemala, killing at least one man and swallowing an entire three-story building. The hole, which measured about 60 feet wide and 30 stories deep, may have been months or even years in the making. But experts suspect Tropical Storm Agatha, which swept through the country and dumped more than 3 feet of rain water, was likely the final trigger. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

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3. The Texas tar pit: Daisetta, Texas, has the unfortunate geological distinction of sitting on top of a salt dome. And that likely caused sinkholes in 1969, 1981, and, most recently, in 2008. The latest opening started off modestly enough, at just 20 feet wide. But throughout the day, the phenomenon appeared to have an unsatiable appetite for land, growing to about 900 feet across and 260 feet deep. Nearby residents watched as the ravenous sinkhole consumed oil field equipment, trees, and vehicles — creating what looked to be a menacing tar pit thanks to the mixture oil and mud at its center. Luckily, the sinkhole eventually stabilized, and no one was injured. (AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Dave Ryan)

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4. Oklahoma's sinking ghost town: Located in the northeastern corner of the state, Picher, Okla., was once the most productive lead and zinc mining field in the area. Nearly a century later, it's a ghost town. All that mining severely damaged the town's geology, rendering it unlivable due to the plethora of sinkholes, like this one (pictured in 2008), as well as lead-laced mountains or rock and tainted water. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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5. The hurricanes' wrath: 2004 was a rough year for the people of Deltona, Fla. They suffered through three of the state's four hurricanes. And then in December, a sinkhole opened up, swallowing a busy four-lane thoroughfare and threatening the surrounding residential area. Within moments of appearing on Dec. 13, the sinkhole consumed trees, chunks of sidewalk, a utility pole, and blinking roadside sign. Growing to at least 225 feet wide and 50 feet deep, the cavern, brought on by the storms, was one of the largest to appear in central Florida in decades. (AP Photo/Barbara V. Perez)

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6. Severing San Diego: After an underground pipe ruptured on Feb. 23, 1998, a hole opened up just west of Interstate 15, severing at least two major roads and crippling local businesses. It was dark and raining when the hole first appeared, and one commuter drove his Honda right into the ditch. He managed to escape unscathed, though his car did not, and he was able to warn other oncoming motorists about the hole, helping two women to narrowly escape the same fate, jumping from their pickup truck moments before it fell into the hole. The thoroughfare was closed for at least five months, forcing some 30,000 motorists through lengthy detours. (REUTERS)

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7. Breaking the city bank: In 1995, a heavy rainstorm broke down the soil under a 100-year-old brick sewer in San Francisco, causing the sewer, which was under reconstruction at the time, to rupture. Then a massive sinkhole measuring 240 feet long, 150 feet wide, and more than 40 feet deep consumed a mansion and damaged nearby homes in the city's upscale Seacliff district. While no one was hurt, the city took a huge financial hit in repairs, cleanup, and claims by adjacent property owners. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

 
Lauren Hansen is the multimedia editor at TheWeek.com. A graduate of Kenyon College and Northwestern University, she started her career in arts publishing and has since worked at media outlets including the BBC and Frontline.

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