Two people have died after a smoking sinkhole opened up in the town of Jharia in Dhanbad District in Jharkand State, India earlier this week. Fourteen-year-old Rahim Khan was sweeping the pavement outside his fathers shop when the ground collapsed beneath him sucking him in. His father, Bablu Khan, 40, jumped into the hole in an attempt to save him, but was also swallowed by the hole.A team of rescuers from dug down into the hole in an attempt to recover the two missing people, but was forced to abandon the effort after 28 hours when they encountered a smoke-filled chamber with temperatures in excess of 80°C.
The scene of the June 2017 Jharia sinkhole. Newslions.
Sinkholes are generally caused by water eroding soft limestone or unconsolidated deposits from beneath, causing a hole that works its way upwards and eventually opening spectacularly at the surface. Where there are unconsolidated deposits at the surface they can infill from the sides, apparently swallowing objects at the surface, including people, without trace.
Attempts to dig out the June 2017 Jharia sinkhole. Newslions.
On this occasion the sinkhole has been linked to a fire that has been burning in an abandoned coal mine beneath the town for over a hundred years. Underground fires can burn at a low level for very long periods of time. Where oxygen is limited but available the fuel is not consumed rapidly as in a fire at the surface, and as long as the oxygen remains available it will continue to survive. A coal fire which started at Planitz in Germany in 1476 was not extinguished until 1860, while a fire at Emalahleni in Mpumalanga has been burning since 1953 and one in Columbia County, Pennsylvania since 1962. A fire at Burning Mountain, Australia is thought to have been burning for about 6000 years. The fires at Jharia have been linked to a number of sinkholes in the area, some of them very large, including one in 1997 that swallowed about 250 homes over a period of a few hours. These fires also produce toxic fumes, such as sulphur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, which have an adverse effect on the health of people living in the area.
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