Didn’t anyone ever tell you that salt mines, shallow lakes and deep-earth drills shouldn’t mix? What started as a seemingly minor miscalculation resulted in a billion-gallon flood, unbelievable property damage and the upheaval of an entire ecosystem. Amazingly, this catastrophe cost no lives though it remains one of history’s most devastating engineering disasters.
On a fateful day in 1980 a group of oil drillers were working in a shallow lake in Louisiana probing for oil. A miscalculation sent their drill straight into a large salt mine shaft below the lake’s surface. The hole started at just over a foot in diameter but rapidly widened as the water from the lake above washed away the salt around it. What started out quite simply ended in disaster that no one could have predicted.
Workers above on the oil platform recognized something was wrong and ‘jumped ship’ before the entire platform disappeared below their feet in a growing whirlpool – all in what was supposed to be a shallow lake! Meanwhile, in the salt mines below, workers made their way through flooded tunnels and all managed to (in some cases narrowly) make it out alive. Despite all of the chaos, no one died above or below ground.
Before it was through, the surface whirlpool managed to suck down islands, barge docks, barges, trees, trucks, an entire parking lock and 3.5 billion gallons of water. The flow of water normally leading from the lake into Vermilion Bay was reversed as the lake refilled itself, and also created the largest waterfall in Louisiana history (over 150 feet) as water poured back into the lake. In the process, what started as a ten-foot-deep freshwater lake became a thousand-foot-deep saltwater lake!