The eyewall of Hurricane Isaac is expected to barrel “right over” Assumption Parish, La., today–the home of a massive sinkhole that has raised fears of expansion and possible explosions from nearby gas-filled caverns.
The eye wall of a hurricane is a band of clouds just outside of the eye, or center, of a hurricane, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The most intense winds and rain happen near the eye wall, making it the most dangerous part of a hurricane.
“The latest update puts the track of Hurricane Isaac right over Assumption Parish,” police wrote in a statement.
The area is expecting sustained winds of 60 to 70 mph with gusts at 85 mph, according to the Assumption Parish Police Jury. Seven inches of rainfall are expected.
The 400-foot deep hole measures about 526 feet from northeast to southwest and 640 feet from northwest to southeast. It is in Assumption Parish, about 50 miles south of Baton Rouge.
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On Aug. 16, the sinkhole swallowed the boat of two cleanup workers, who had to be rescued from the hole.
“The fact that we’re going to get more rain doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a great collapse of the sinkhole,” Hancock told ABCNews.com today, but said it was possible that “getting additional water into the sidewalls of this sinkhole could lead to a collapse in the sidewalls.”
Hancock likened the situtation to building a sandcastle on the beach.
“The last thing we want is for the sand to be really wet,” he said. “The more water gets added to the sand, the less stable it is.”
“There’s no reason why this sinkhole shouldn’t continue to grow, but I don’t know if it’ll have anything to do with how much rain they get,” Hancock said. “I’d want to keep an eye on it, but I don’t think there’s a reason to think that there’s going to be significant growth to this associated with the hurricane.”
A mandatory evacuation of all of Assumption Parish was issued on Tuesday night. Schools are closed Wednesday and Thursday, a midnight curfew is in effect and the sale of alcohol has been banned, according to officials.
A “shelter of last resort” was opened at a middle school, but officials warned, “All evacuees should bring all necessary items such as sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, toiletries, personal hygiene items, medicines, food, water, and personal identification. No cots will be provided.”
The sinkhole sits in the middle of a heavily wooded space where it has consumed all of the soaring cypress trees that had been there. Flyover photos show some of the treetops still visible through the mud.
While officials are not certain what caused the massive sinkhole, they believe it may be have been related to a nearby salt cavern owned by the Texas Brine Company.
After being used for nearly 30 years, the cavern was plugged in 2011 and officials believe the integrity of the cavern may have somehow been compromised, leading to the sinkhole, which appeared in early August.
Louisiana‘s Department of Natural Resources required that Texas Brine drill a well to investigate the salt cavern as soon as possible, obtain samples from the cavern and provide daily reports on the findings.
The sinkhole is on the outside edge of the salt dome where this particular brine well is located.
“There are some indications that it very well may have been connected, but there’s just indications,” Texas Brine Company spokesman Sonny Cranch told ABCNews.com. “There’s nothing concrete that has connected the sinkhole to the cavern.”
The exploratory rig is being assembled but parts of it are still being shipped. It could take 40 days for the actual drilling to begin, even with an expedited process, Torres said.
In the meantime, officials and residents are left to worry about the possibility of an explosion.
All of the neighboring natural gas pipelines that were of concern last week have been depressurized and emptied, but the nearby caverns are still causing concern.
One cavern that contains 940,000 gallons of butane is of particular concern, Torres said. It’s about 2,000 feet from the sinkhole.
Authorities are concerned about the massive explosion that could result from the butane’s release to the surface if the sinkhole were to expand far enough to reach it.
There was bubbling in the water and the sinkhole is near areas where there has been exploration for oil and gas in the past. This would make the presence of low levels of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) possible.
The state’s Department of Environmental Quality said water samples from the sinkhole showed oil and diesel fuel on its surface, but readings have not detected any dangerous levels of radiation.
“It’s not going to get fixed tomorrow,” Torres said. “We urge the residents to leave to protect themselves. We have no idea how far this sinkhole will expand or in what direction. We have no clue.
Louisiana activates 4000 National Guardsmen, securing sinkhole equipment
The governor of Louisiana, home of an expanding, gas-bubbling sinkhole the size of three football fields with radiation levels three times the state’s acceptable limit, has activated 4,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard to assist with Tropical Storm Isaac heading toward it, as officials and Texas Brine Co. work to secure the massive hole’s exploratory rig and other equipment.
Because Isaac is expected to be very dangerous and is heading to Louisiana where a giant sinkhole has been bubbling and expanding out of control for weeks, the state already has activated 4,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard to assist with emergency operations, has reached out to nearby states for possibly more assistance, and officials are working with Texas Brine Co. LLC to determine if the rig at the sinkhole should be shut down, according to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“I would recommend to our people, let’s hope and pray for the best even as we prepare for the worst,” Jindal said. “Now is the time to make sure you’ve got an evacuation plan.”
Up to 18 inches of rain is possible in Louisiana along with a storm surge up to 12 feet, according to the NHC, a worry to Louisiana’s sinkhole disaster workers and to residents.
Louisiana’s state Department of Natural Resources is working with Texas Brine of Houston to ensure that equipment at the massive sinkhole site and surrounding areas in Assumption Parish are secure, according to Jindal.
Workers were to resume drilling an observational well at the sinkhole site Sunday to examine a nearby salt cavern believed to have caused the sinkhole, Texas Brine said in a news release.
“During the next 24 hours, efforts will be concentrated on securing monitoring equipment that has been installed in the immediate area in anticipation of the approaching storm,” Texas Brine stated.
Officials are expected to determine Monday morning if the rig needs to be shut down based on Isaac’s path, a Texas Brine release states.
Assumption Parish officials have declared a state of emergency due to Isaac and Sunday afternoon, Jindal urged residents there in low-lying areas to evacuate.
The National Guard is ready to serve, it says.
“As Tropical Storm Isaac approaches the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana National Guard is reassuring its fellow citizens that we have been preparing for the worst by training at our best all year round, most recently during the Disaster Response and Commodities Distribution Exercises,” it states in a written statement.
“We continue to stand ready to support our citizens, local and state authorities in support of any emergency at the direction of the governor.”
Oil and gas impacts expected
Meteorologists at Weather Insight, an arm of Thomson Reuters, predict that Isaac will spur short-term shutdowns of 85 percent of the nation’s offshore oil production capacity and 68 percent of its natural gas output.
“Once ashore, the storm could wreak havoc on low-lying fuel refineries along the Gulf Coast that account for about 40 percent of U.S. refining capacity,” Reuters reports. “That could send gasoline prices spiking just ahead of the U.S. Labor Day holiday, analysts said.”
“It’s going right in the heart of refinery row,” Phil Flynn, an analyst with Price Futures Group in Chicago, said on Sunday.
BP Plc, the largest U.S. Gulf producer, is shutting production at all of its Gulf of Mexico oil and gas platforms and evacuating all workers.
The American Red Cross is establishing a large hurricane shelter in nearby Alexandria for evacuees, and the state will set up more shelters closer to southern parishes under the hurricane warning, Jindal said.
Gulf residents have been stocking supplies and securing their homes. Some stores have run out of basics, such as clean water. In New Orleans, long lines formed at some gas stations.
“I sense a high level of anxiety,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “The timing, as fate would have it, on the anniversary of Katrina has everybody in a state of alertness, but that is a good thing.”
Jindal said he is staying in Louisiana and not attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. as the state is under threat from Tropical Storm Isaac.
“I’m not thinking about the convention,” said Jindal. “I’m not thinking about politics right now. Our absolutely top priority has to be the safety of our people.”