Giant sinkhole swallows up old mine in Russia's Urals (PHOTOS)

Image courtesy: Uralkali press service
A sinkhole 20 by 30 meters (65 by 98 feet) in size has been found near a Uralkali mine in Russia's Perm region. While the company says the development is of no further threat, locals fear the whole nearby town could go underground.

The sinkhole was first discovered by Uralkali's Solikamsk-2 mine workers on November 18. According to local emergency services, it's located some two miles from the mine itself, in an old abandoned mine.

Old, out-of-use garden patches were affected by the accident, and there is no danger to locals, as the sinkhole is in no close proximity to any residential buildings, the company said.

There are no "catastrophic" effects of the sinkhole neither for the company, nor for the locals, Uralkali CEO Dmitry Osipov said, adding that the incident has been localised.

Image courtesy: Uralkali press service

Before the giant hole appeared near the town of Solikamsk, the company, which is Russia's biggest potash miner, evacuated workers at the Solikamsk-2 mine, due to the inflow of saline water. Operations at the site have been halted, and the level of underground water is being monitored.

Locals fear that the hole could get bigger and swallow their houses, which are some 2 miles from the sinkhole now. Regional authorities say the sinkhole could get bigger, but would still be of no danger to people.

Image courtesy: Uralkali press service

"The sinkhole will get slightly bigger... up to 50 by 60 meters [164 by 197 feet] - maximum," Perm Governor Gennady Tushnolobov told journalists, regional media reported. He added that the exact size of the expansion will be determined in a couple of days.

The flooded mine, Solikamsk-2, is connected to another mine, Solikamsk-1, which is causing concerns among people in the region. The underground tunnels linking the two were walled up decades ago, but water would only need time to break through, people fear.

The town of Solikamsk is located "almost entirely" above the Solikamsk-1 mine, according to the town's mayor, Sergey Devyatkov, reported. If the mine is flooded - which could happen in theory, but not in the immediate future - the whole town would have to be evacuated, according to the source.

"There is no need to talk about the first mine now. All is good there," the mayor said in an interview with Russia's KP daily, adding that the situation is monitored around the clock, and there is plenty of time for observation.

"Various possible impacts of the brine on connections [between the two mines] are being studied now, not to let the flooding of the first mine happen. I think the final decision will be made in two weeks, but even if no action on fortification of walled-up tunnels is taken, scientists predict they could stay strong for another five to 15 years," Tushnolobov said, reported.

Uralkali said that Solikamsk-1 and Solikamsk-2 mines border each other, and together with leading geologists the company is monitoring all processes in both of the mines, which produce potash chloride, to be used primarily as crop nutrient.

Crater formed close to the Berezniki railway station, after an earth sink on rails adjacent to the Berezniki mine-building facilities and the First Uralkali Mine Administration in 2010. (RIA Novosti/Viktor Brandman)

The company's facilities in the area have previously been affected by similar incidents. Uralkali's oldest mine was shut down in 2006 due to water inflow, which also caused a sinkhole to form in the town of Berezniki, which is the second largest town in Perm region.

Another sinkhole appeared in Berezniki in 2011, when a round hole as wide as 137 meters (450 feet) formed less than a mile away from a residential area.