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Louisiana sinkhole draws stepped-up state homeland security response

Bayou Corne sinkhole

A 400 foot wide, 400 foot deep sinkhole in a Louisiana bayou 80 miles northwest of New Orleans has the state’s homeland security and emergency agency stepping up its monitoring efforts as the gaping hole threatens surrounding infrastructure in the area.

The sinkhole in Assumption Parish’s Bayou Corne threatens roads, gas lines, and salt caverns in the area. The caverns, created in mining salt, brine and sulfur, are also used to store natural gas, and other petroleum by-products. The potentially volatile caverns have local residents worried about fires and explosions. Gas lines in the area have been depressurized, however.

Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency for the area on Aug. 3. When the sinkhole continued to expand the week of Aug. 13, parish law enforcement said 150 homes and 350 residents were forced to evacuate.

The Louisiana Governor Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said on Aug. 22 that a slew of state agencies were ramping up round-the-clock operations at Bayou Corne, as the owners of salt caverns, Texas Brine, began drilling a well casing for an exploratory well near the sinkhole to gauge the integrity of a nearby salt cavern that had been plugged in the 1980’s after being used for 30 years. Officials think the cavern may have been compromised, leading to the sinkhole’s formation. There is also a concern about low levels of radioactivity seeping from the sinkhole.

Officials from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana State Police, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality are providing oversight of the drilling process 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of the drilling, said the office.

Louisiana State Police relocated its Forward Command Post evening to monitor the operations and the police Hazmat Unit increased staffing levels to provide 24-hour operational support throughout the process. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is also monitoring the air quality in the area, it said.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation staff is monitoring all activity on the site of Texas Brine’s investigatory well to make sure the company is complying with all safety standards and the rules for proper drilling, well construction and well control. DNR has an agent on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Department of Transportation is monitoring roads in the area but hasn’t found any concerns about the integrity of state roads in the area, including La. 70 in Assumption Parish. The transportation department, however, reminded motorists to use caution while driving on  La. 70 in the parish, because of heavy truck traffic entering and exiting the roadway.

The transportation department said its engineers are monitoring the state road system in the area 24 hours a day with roving patrols and frequent surveys. If conditions change, it said its crews were prepared to close roads immediately to ensure public safety and will announce appropriate detours.

 
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