As Jeffrey Bush slept in his Florida home, a sinkhole opened beneath his bed one night in February 2013 and pulled him into the depths, never to be seen again.
An entire community was abandoned in Pilatos, Spain, in the 1970s because of the continuing risk of sinkholes.
And, in Bayou Corne, the slow death of a community winds down after a sinkhole formed there more than 2½ years ago in the cypress swamp southwest of Baton Rouge.
“Why is the ground under our feet collapsing? What dangers lurk beneath the surface? Whose home will be next?” an announcer asks in a new NOVA documentary.
The PBS science program takes a look at sinkholes around the world, including the Assumption Parish sinkhole that has played out since August 2012. The show airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Louisiana Public Broadcasting in Baton Rouge and WYES in New Orleans.
“Sinkholes — Buried Alive” has a dramatic edge punctuated with ominous music, but filmmaker Larry Klein said he has attempted to provide some understanding to what were sensationalistic sinkhole news stories over the past few years.
Klein said the program won’t shed any new light for those familiar with the Bayou Corne case and features familiar figures in the story, but Klein has his eyes on a broader canvass.
“What I was hoping to do is contextualize what happened there for average people. That is what I was hoping to achieve,” said Klein, writer, director and producer of the documentary.
Filming took place over the summer, and the final edit was finished before Christmas.
Klein said he began researching sinkholes last year when he ran across the viral video shot of the Bayou Corne sinkhole sucking down cypress trees on its perimeter. John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, shot the 2013 video that is featured in the documentary.
“The real question is if John hadn’t shot that cellphone video, would people know about it now outside of Louisiana? Not very much, I don’t think, even though it was huge event. That piece of video, in my mind, that to me was really important,” Klein said.
Using animations and following researchers and those tracking sinkholes, Klein tries to shed light on the mechanics behind different kinds of sinkholes.
Graphics show how the mining of underground salt deposits, known as salt domes, works in Louisiana and other parts of the Gulf Coast. Graphics also demonstrate what happened when Texas Brine Co.’s mining got too close to the edge of the Napoleonville Dome in Assumption. When the salt dome cavern’s sidewall broke, rock and sediment rushed to fill in the vast underground cavity and led to the sinkhole in Bayou Corne.
In Florida and Spain, the film explores karst and evaporite geology. With karsts, porous limestone or gypsum rock can be dissolved by groundwater and form underground caverns that can lead to surface sinkholes. The Bush home in Seffner, Florida, was over a limestone karst.
Spanish geologist Francisco Gutiérrez, who is featured in the show, talks about the Medieval city of Calatayud, Spain, where residents have learned to live with the risks of sinkholes forming in the karst territory.
Sinkholes emerge naturally there, but heavy groundwater pumping, irrigation and other actions can hasten the formation of sinkholes. Gutiérrez underscores a thread running through the program.
“Sinkholes can be accelerated or even triggered by various human activities,” he said.
In Florida, Klein looks at how a lack of regulation has left homeowners in the lurch when sinkholes threaten homes. While the program does not point fingers so much, Klein’s look at sinkholes has brought him to the conclusion that where people and the risk of sinkholes exist, regulation should be strong.
That’s a hard lesson already learned in Bayou Corne.
“Regardless of fault, what people don’t realize is how much this affects people who live around these things,” Klein said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.