Dead Sea Sinkholes Swallowing Up Unwary

The Dead Sea is the lowest spot of land on the planet, where the Bible says God rained fire and brimstone down on the misbehaving residents of Sodom and Gomorrah — and where now, the Earth occasionally opens up and swallows people.

Geologist Eli Raz was one of those people.

"It happened so quickly," says Raz. "I was busy documenting, taking pictures, writing in my notebook, using my equipment, etc. All of a sudden, I found myself down. It was terrible."

That scene is repeated over and over as rescuers haul hikers from subterranean misfortune. Some 3,000 sink holes have appeared on the banks of the Dead Sea — and an estimated 3,000 more are ready to burst open.

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This time however, it's not an act of God. This moonscape was created by residents of Jordan and Israel tapping into the Jordan River.

"The Jordan River used to be the main contributor of water to the Dead Sea," explains Raz. "Now there is no Jordan River anymore. It is just a switch channel."

The Dead Sea's waters — famous for their heavy salt and mineral content — have shrunk by a third and continue to recede.

As the Dead Sea recedes, fresh water comes to the dried-up areas in the form of rain, runoff and underground streams. The fresh water soaks into the ground, dissolving the salts that had been deposited there since long before there was a Sodom or a Gomorrah.

Once the salt dissolves, that opens up great underground caves — and the earth comes a-tumblin' down.

Now tourist parks look like earthquake aftermath. Roads are closed, famous desert hikes fenced off, construction projects canceled.

Israel's comptroller criticizes the country's own ministries for doing nothing — while the soft soil in the Earth's basement waits to swallow another victim.