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Event to Mark Three Years Since Sinkhole Devastated Bayou Corne

By Lucy Leonard

On August 3, 2012, the lives of the people living on Bayou Corne changed forever. Deep beneath the feet of the city’s citizens, an underground salt dome cavern, owned by Texas Brine Company, collapsed. The event caused the creation of a dangerous sinkhole, which released oil and gases and sucked sediment, trees and more downward. As the now nearly empty community approaches the three-year anniversary of the disaster, documentary filmmaker and New Orleans resident Victoria Greene is hoping to bring the community back together for closure.


The Bayou Corne Sinkhole is now famous, especially for the viral videos that feature the sinkhole devouring entire trees in one fell swoop. It stretches for a shocking 31 acres— larger than two Superdomes— so expansive that it now resembles a lake. 


Greene will be detailing the story in her upcoming documentary, Forgotten Bayou: Life in the Sinkhole. Her team has been working on the documentary for two and a half years, because the story is still unfolding every day. According to Greene, though scientists have declared that the sinkhole is somewhat stabilized, there is still movement occuring.


“There’s not a lot of growth,” Greene explained. “There have been sloughing events, but they’ve been smaller. Usually, there’s no oil on the top. There are no hydrocarbons above it.”


In the past year and a half, the sinkhole has only expanded by about six or so acres, Greene said. But it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that remains a concern.


“As far as what’s going on underneath the sinkhole in the cavern, there continues to be a tremendous amount of seismic activity targeted around the entire Napoleonville salt dome,” Greene warned. “But yet, the sinkhole hasn’t grown. It’s stable right now. That being said, will it grow in the future? Has it stopped? Nobody has those answers.” 


When Governor Bobby Jindal declared an emergency evacuation order three years ago, many of the residents left permanently, changing the face of the once tight-knit community forever. 


“Currently, the majority of homeowners have left. They’ve been bought out, be it by Texas Brine or through the class action,” Greene detailed. “However, there are still individuals that are living there that are in limbo that want to stay. The community has changed in the sense that some have left, but some have also stayed. In some places, it looks like a ghost town.”


The evacuation order remains in place today, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has gone. Originally, about 25 families stayed, Greene said, but now that number has dwindled to just ten or eleven. Those families that have made the choice to stay mostly live on the Southside of town on the newer side of Highway 70, between a half of a mile and a third of a mile away from the sinkhole. 


Despite the risks of living in such proximity to the sinkhole, the families show no sign of wanting to leave. Many of them are still in litigation and are paying mortgages on nearly worthless properties.


“They have both eyes open, but they’re willing to take the risk. They love it. It’s still beauty,” Greene admitted. “That’s the irony. Your backyard looks to the bayou, and it’s still beautiful. There are still fish, the air is still clean, and they’re willing to take the risk. However, it’s just a handful of neighbors rather than a vibrant, bubbling community.” 


Now, Greene is hoping to bring all the members of the community back together. On August 18, Greene will host a commemoration at The Napoleonville Community Center. She will show a clip from her documentary and hopes to have a priest perform a blessing. 


“I’m hoping it will bring some closure to the homeowners that perhaps, even though they moved physically, have not moved on emotionally,” Greene expressed. “It will give them a chance to visit with their neighbors. It was a very tight-knit community, and now you have people living anywhere from Assumption Parish to Baton Rouge to Mississippi.”


Importantly, though, Greene said it is a necessary event in order to recognize the emotional, financial and environmental trauma that this community has endured. 


“Nobody really talks about the fact that there are no winners,” Greene said seriously. “Nobody wins. The environment doesn’t win because we’re losing wetlands. Texas Brine doesn’t win because no company wants this type of accident to affect their area. The state doesn’t win, and most of all, the community doesn’t win. But the community is extremely resilient, and that’s what Louisiana people do. They pick themselves up, and they proceed with their lives.”               

Correction: This article origonally stated that the sinkhole collapsed on August 18. It has been corrected to reflect the proper date: August 3.                                                                                                                                                                                         

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