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Destructive sinkholes forming in Gauteng, swallowing homes and roads, South Africa

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Numerous sinkholes are forming in the Khutsong suburb outside Carletonville, West Rand, South Africa's Gauteng province, swallowing homes and roads. As a result, more than 25 000 residents could soon be forced to evacuate and be transferred to government subsidy houses. This region is well known for its karst landscape (dolomitic) and numerous sinkholes since the 1950s.

People have been living in fear as sinkholes have been posing threats to the area for weeks now. The recent sinkhole has already swallowed a huge portion of land, damaging properties and infrastructure. However, there were other families who still refuse to leave.

The incident is being blamed on officials' negligence of geologists' reports that the soil in the area was likely to collapse. Community leaders expressed their grievances over local Merafong City Municipality for ignoring the warnings for years.

Community leader Elias Tsotetsi accused the municipality of waiting for people to die inside their homes before taking action, finally deciding to replace old water pipes.

Furthermore, Tsotetsi said geologists who conducted research about the sinkholes in the suburbs warned the municipality many years ago.

"They kept it as a secret and did nothing about it. They thought that these sinkholes were not going to spread," he stated.

"Unfortunately, they are spreading worse now and are eating our homes. What are they waiting for? They must simply replace those old asbestos pipes with new materials and allow people to live in peace."

Several houses, roads, and streets have already vanished in some places. Sewer pipes were also affected, leaving a stench over the area.

Some people have turned the sinkholes into dumping sites, while some have abandoned their houses that were being devoured by sinkholes little by little. Heavy rains are also making the situation worse.

"We are trying to fill these sinkholes with garbage, hoping they won't spread further," said one local who was spotted by News24. "Many houses here are cracking and soon they will also be swallowed by sinkholes."

Two elderly women described their situation as a nightmare, saying they have lost hope in the local municipality. They appealed to replace old infrastructure as it was believed to have had triggered the sinkholes.

The disaster has also resulted in robbers taking advantage of the situation by looting materials from empty houses such as doors, cables, toilets, bathtubs, and windows.

City officials assured that there are plans to relocate more than 25 000 residents to government subsidy housing in other parts of the suburb.

"Residents here are silent and have accepted new RDP houses that they are being relocated to and are not fighting to protect their homes," said Tsotetsi.

However, he also expressed his worries that rehoming people into the government subsidy houses may spark tension as people who previously owned houses were being moved to homes before those who have been on the waitlist for a long time.

Geologists investigated sinkholes in the region as far back as 1960s. They started appearing particularly since pumping for the gold mines intensified in the 1950s. These collapses characteristically occur suddenly and produce a deep crater (A.B.A. Brink, 1979).

The one at the West Driefontein mine in December 1962 was 55 m [180 feet] in diameter and at least 30 m [98 feet] deep. It claimed 29 lives.

Featured image credit: eNCA/YouTube

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