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20-November 2013

And it could burst into flames

Expanding: The Bayou Corne sinkhole covers 24 acres and has been sucking in trees and swamp

A Louisiana sinkhole that has sucked in trees and swamps as it spread to the size of 20 football fields is now at risk of exploding.

Residents of Bayou Corne were evacuated a year ago when the sinkhole, which is emitting natural gases, opened up.

The gas exploration company that has been blamed for causing the problem after a mine collapsed, has resorted to digging relief wells to try to disperse the gas.

Explosive: Natural gas building up in the sinkhole could cause it to ignite like this one in Turkmenistan

Evacuated: Bayou Corne was once home to 350 residents but only a few have remained

Louisiana state is suing Texas Brine as it tries to recoup $8 million used to deal with the sinkhole, including bringing in a team of scientists, according to The Verge.

While no homes have yet been sucked in, officials warn that the gases being emitted could ignite, which would leave the Louisiana swamp looking like 'the gates of Hell'.

In a similar case, a crater caused by Soviet geologists drilling in Turkmenistan in the 1970s has been a fiery pit for more than 40 years after the natural gases being released were lit.

The Louisiana sinkhole, which is expected to expand to 50 acres, is currently 25 acres wide and 350ft deep in some points. Methane bubbling up from it has also escaped into an aquifer.

Experts fear that if oil and gas rising to the surface became trapped it could build up in a crevice and then explode.

What lies beneath: Oil and natural gas surface at the sinkhole which opened up last year

Fire pit: If the natural gas ignited the sinkhole could become like the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan, which has been alight for 40 years

Risk: A sign warns of the potential risk caused by the build up of gas

John Boudreaux, who is part of the parish's emergency preparedness team, said about 6 million cubic feet of natural gas was trapped beneath the surface. He said only 5 per cent needed to get in the air for it to ignite. Scientists are constantly monitoring the affected region and several weeks ago noticed a rise in micro-earthquake activity, from an average of 10 to 15 a day to 326 in one 24-hour period.

The sinkhole appeared overnight in August last year, when the wall of a salt mine 5,000ft underground collapsed, sucking in surrounding water and releasing gas.

Because it allegedly knew the risks involved with deep drilling, Texas Brine's insurance has refused to pay out, according to Al Jazeera.

The natural gas company has bought up about 60 properties which it plans to demolish to make way for outlets so the build up of gas can release.

Anger: Residents who have lost their homes and community protest over the sinkhole, caused when a mined salt cavern collapsed

Protest: Lawn ornaments outside a Bayou Corne house are used to hit back at Texas Brine, the company blamed for the problem

Repairing the damage: Texas Brine is drilling release wells to try to safely disperse the natural gas

A mandatory evacuation was issued to the parish's 300 residents, but many are still paying their mortgages and utility bills, and some have even refused to leave their homes.

Mike Schaff stayed on after the evacuation but said he is now ready to leave.

'We were planning on retiring here. Now, instead of coming up and enjoying the weekend, sitting on the patio drinking a few glasses of wine, we wake up in the morning and we go look for houses. That's the new reality,' he said. Texas Brine has issued regular updates on its efforts to tackle the problem.

In the latest statement, released on November 14, it said: 'Over the past 15 months, Texas Brine Company has been committed to responding to this incident and mitigating any impact to the environment, while supporting a community in need and continuing efforts to understand potential risks involved with the sinkhole.'

Expanding: No homes have been sucked in yet but trees are pulled under as the hole expands

Slow progress: Residents affected by the disaster demand help a year after the sinkhole opened up

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