Family Of Four Dies In Sinkhole After Yard Silently Liquefies

The bodies of a family of four were found on their couch at the bottom of a crevasse after the area underneath their house suddenly gave way Monday. The culprit was an ancient one, the modern-day after-effects of a 10,000-year old inland sea.

NYT reports:

Michel A. Bouchard, a professor of geology at the University of Montreal, said the area around St. Jude rests on an unusual variety of “sensitive clay” that was originally the bed of an ancient sea. Lake Champlain is a remnant of the sea.

Because the clay formed in salt water, Professor Bouchard said, the molecular structure of its particles resembles playing cards arranged as an unstable house of cards, rather than stacked in a deck, as occurs with clay formed in fresh water. A variety of events can break the molecular bonds holding the clay particles together. When that occurs, the clay can spontaneously liquefy with little or no provocation.

“Even a fly landing on the surface can set it off,” he said.

The family dog, tied outside to a tree, was the sole survivor.

It’s tragic tale that serves as a grim reminder to make sure to fully inspect the property before building or buying a house. Here’s info on how sinkhole flooding happens, and how to avoid it.

Quebec Family Dies as Home Vanishes Into Crater [NYT]