The Lake Peigneur sinkhole


Lake Peigneur is a small freshwater lake in Louisiana with a shallow depth of 3 metres (10 feet), which makes it a popular spot for recreational fishermen. All that changed drastically on the 20th of November, 1980.

Located under the lake was the Jefferson Island salt mine, owned by the Diamond Crystal Salt Company. On the surface a Texaco oil rig drilled down searching for petroleum.

Suddenly all work on the oil rig stopped – the drill had become stuck. When the workers heard several pops and felt the rig tilt, they jumped into the barges attached to the rig, cut the safety lines and headed for the shore approximately 275 metres (300 feet) away. 90 minutes later, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing – the $5 million dollar platform and derrick overturned, and disappeared into a lake that was supposed to be shallow.

It seemed that the drill of the rig punctured the roof of the third level of the mine, creating an opening in the bottom of the lake. The lake then drained into the hole, creating a whirlpool similar to the way that water in a bath swirls down the drain hole after the plug is removed. The water quickly started filling the enormous caverns left by the removal of salt over the years, with the force of the falling water quickly expanding the size of the vortex.

A cross-section showing the Jefferson Island salt mine, and how the waters of Lake Peigneur flooded into the abyss, creating a temporary sinkhole.

The tremendous sucking power of the whirlpool was causing violent destruction. It swallowed another nearby drilling platform whole, as well as a barge loading dock, 70 acres of soil from Jefferson Island, trucks, trees, structures, and a parking lot. The sucking force was so strong that it reversed the flow of a 19 kilometre (12-mile) canal which led out to the Gulf of Mexico, and dragged 11 barges from that canal into the swirling vortex, where they disappeared into the flooded mines below.

Lake Peigneur used to drain into Vermilion Bay via the Delcambre Canal, but once the lake had emptied into the mine, the canal changed direction and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico flooded into the muddy lake bed. The backwards flow created a temporary 49 metre (164 feet) waterfall, the tallest in the state, and 122 metre (400-feet) geysers burst periodically from the depths as compressed air was forced out of the flooded mine shafts.

Incredibly were no injuries and no human lives lost. No official blame for the miscalculation was ever decided, because all of the evidence was sucked down the drain.  Days after the disaster, once the water pressure equalised, nine of the eleven sunken barges popped out of the whirlpool and refloated on the lake’s surface. What had been a 3 metre deep freshwater lake was now a 60 metre deep seawater lake.

The source for this blog post was https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2010/11/thirty-years-ago-a-louisiana-lake-turned-into-a-swirling-pit-of-destruction/

Please leave a reply if you found this post interesting, or if you can add some further information. I look forward to your comments!

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