The town at risk from cave-ins

In what sounds like the plot of a bad horror film, we read that “kids in Picher, Okla., are exposed to lead, and the ground is at risk of cave-ins” due to the “abandoned mines beneath the city.”

Turns out the whole town is now under “voluntary buyout” by the US government because the place is so polluted that no one should be living there. Tailings from abandoned lead and zinc mines are to blame; indeed, there are “giant gray piles of mining waste, known locally as ‘chat,’ some hundreds of feet tall and acres wide, that loom over abandoned storefronts and empty lots.”

[Image: “Chat piles” looming round the “abandoned storefronts and empty lots” of Picher, OK; photo by Matt Wright, author of the article I’ve been quoting. See also this photo gallery from the US Geological Survey’s own tour of Picher, or this series of images from 1919].

From the Washington Post:

Signs of Picher’s impending death are everywhere. Many stores along Highway 69, the town’s main street, are empty, their windows coated with a layer of grime, virtually concealing the abandoned merchandise still on display. Trucks traveling along the highway are diverted around Picher for fear that the hollowed-out mines under the town would cause the streets to collapse under the weight of big rigs. (!) In some neighborhoods, empty mobile homes sit rusting in the sun, their windows broken, their doors yawning open, the detritus of life—car parts, broken toys, pieces of carpet, rotting sofas—strewn across their front yards.

But what happens in twenty years’ time, when a group of joy-riding teenagers from across state lines find themselves driving through Picher in the late afternoon…? They park their car, laughing, and throw rocks through some windows; one of them sneaks behind the old neighborhood Piggly Wiggly and opens up the door of a small shed only to find the entrance to a mine—when, suddenly, the ground opens up on the main street and swallows all three of his friends.

He hears screaming—as well as what sound like whispering voices coming from beneath the ground. The sun setting, our naive hero of the high school football squad descends into the lead mines to find them…

Or has that film already been made?

(Thanks, Javier! See also Helltown USA and Cancer Villages).

5 thoughts on “The town at risk from cave-ins”

  1. The film has already been made.

    Brad Beasely also directed Okie Noodling and Fearless Freaks, two great films.

    By the way, I don’t think there’s any Piggly Wiggly’s in Oklahoma, you have to go Deep South to find those – if there’s any left at all. Those from Oklahoma like to refer to it’s location as Mid-South.

  2. Then there’s Kiruna, Sweden. A town in the far north claiming an area of 19,447 km² and 26,217 people. (by comparison greater LA area is 12,562 km²).

    Kiruna straddles the world’s largest known concentration of high-grade iron ore and the mine is slowly devouring the town. The situation recently reached a point where they had to re-locate the town center, as the unstable ground above the mine (collapsed over excavated ore) kept collapsing underneath buildings.

    So they’re moving the town center a couple miles away to sit on top of the tailings of the mine – a time shifted translation of rock and city, resulting in the synthetic re-organization of both.

  3. Reminds me of Centralia, Pennsylvania.

    The Appalachian mining town has slowly been destroyed by underground coal fires since the 1960’s. As a vein of coal burned underground, flaming sinkholes would randomly open up, consuming houses, roads, and a few unlucky residents. The state of Pennsylvania declared eminent domain in the 80’s, in an attempt to relocate everyone to safer ground, but ten stubborn Centralians remain to this day.

    Check out photos at:

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