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Canada Fast-expanding Nova Scotia sinkhole prompts safety concerns

Men look at a sinkhole in Oxford, N.S. on Aug. 23, 2018.

Sean Whalen Photography/The Canadian Press

A small Nova Scotia town is urging public caution as officials scramble to assess a large, fast-expanding sinkhole that has sucked up trees and picnic tables.

An Oxford, N.S., park has been roped off while geologists and emergency management officials assess the stability of the surrounding area, which includes a community centre, gas station and a Tim Hortons.

“It’s just amazing what Mother Nature can do,” Linda Cloney, public relations officer for the town, said on Tuesday.

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Town officials say the hole grew considerably overnight on Monday.

The sinkhole was measured on Tuesday morning at around 34 by 29 metres – about five metres wider than the previous night’s measurements.

Ms. Cloney said stability around the growing sinkhole is one of the biggest safety concerns, as scientists and officials still aren’t sure what is causing the sinkhole to grow, or how fast.

“It really is a day by day, unpredictable event,” Ms. Cloney.

By Tuesday morning, the edge of the hole had expanded to the pavement of the Lions’ Club parking lot.

Geologists and emergency management officials say they have no idea how deep the hole is.

Last week, a 40-foot spruce tree was sucked into the hole. Playground equipment at Oxford and Area Lions Parkland was dismantled and moved to storage, as officials were unsure as to whether it would be safe to remove them in the coming days.

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Security is on-site around the clock to keep people out of the park while assessment work is ongoing.

The town is keeping security measures in place until the geologists’ report can offer a better picture of how stable the surrounding area is.

“We’re letting it do its thing, watching and monitoring, and also learning from this,” Ms. Cloney said.

Regional provincial geologist Amy Tizzard has been assessing the site over the last few days, and said the likeliest cause is an underground cavern caving in the soft gypsum rock that’s common in the region.

People have been stopping for a look at the sinkhole, according to a town spokesperson.

Sean Whalen Photography/The Canadian Press

Ms. Tizzard said the sinkhole was less active on Tuesday than on Monday, but it’s impossible to say what happens next.

“These sinkhole features are unpredictable so we really can’t speculate how big it could get or if it’s starting to stabilize at the moment,” Ms. Tizzard said.

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Staff at the nearby gas station and Tim Hortons said they are still open for business, although the massive hole can be seen from the coffee shop’s window.

The growing natural phenomenon has also attracted a growing number of visitors.

Ms. Cloney said the sinkhole has also become a bit of a tourist attraction as people drive in for a glimpse, resulting in a few minor “fender benders” over the last few days.

“People are stopping in, they’re curious. You hear of sinkholes but this one is rather large,” Ms. Cloney said.

The road by the park is usually a busy spot for cars, as people pass through on their way to the nearby Pugwash beaches. The county exhibition is also in town, drawing more visitors than usual.

The uncertainty of the sinkhole’s expansion has also meant a number of disruptions to events at the Lions Club hall.

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Robert Mannette of the Oxford Area Lions Club told The Canadian Press in a Facebook message that closing the hall has meant cancelling a wedding, a family function, and likely Girl Guides meetings in September. Other safety meetings, fundraisers, children’s programming and flu shots will be up in the air if the hall remains inaccessible.

Cumberland Regional Emergency Management posted a video to Facebook on Tuesday, showing a large chunk of earth breaking off and falling into the sinkhole, urging the public to stay away from the park.

The Canadian Press

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