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Earthquake Sinkholes

Sinkholes, a secondary impact from earthquakes.

No, I'm not a geologist, but I can do a bit of prediction. With earthquakes we can expect some, if not many, underground utilities like water and sewer systems to be broken. These then, if the water continues to flow, can cause huge sinkholes in the region impacted by the earthquake that are secondary hazards, but more importantly, obstacles to restoring the critical infrastructure of the region.

Case in point to the size and complexity of a sinkhole in an urban area is this event in Japan, which recently had sunk a bit again after the repair, see Japan: Repaired Fukuoka sinkhole sinks again.

What originally drew me to this story was the time-lapse video of the original sinkhole being repaired. It shows the complexity, time, and amount of equipment and effort to address just one sinkhole location.

What I'm highlighting is that besides bridges being down, building fires and chemical spills, we may have sinkholes emerging in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake. The one above was attributed to development nearby, but you can imagine the disruption to an urban area by a repair like this. Quick earthquake repairs to roads appear to be a Japanese specialty, since I've seen other instances where they rapidly restored a transportation corridor following an earthquake. I'm not so sure we could do what they did in this specific instance. The problem in a postearthquake environment is that there will be competing needs and the ability to move resources around a region can be expected to be significantly restricted.

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.