Lake Peigneur in Louisiana is the strangest most bizarre lake in the world.
Nowadays it looks perfectly ordinary. But just over 30 years ago this lake did the impossible – the lake, which was just 3 and a half meters deep, turned into a bizarre vortex that was big enough to swallow boats, land and houses.
Mike Richards has lived by Lake Peigneur for over 40 years and witnessed the bizarre happenings of November 1980.
“On Nov 20th 1980 my sister was awakened by trembling, and she woke me up” says Mike. He rushed outside and what he saw was astonishing – a massive whirlpool had suddenly appeared in the lake.
Within an hour the whirlpool had doubled in size from 213 to 426 meters.
Mike grabbed his super 8 camera and began filming as barges working on the lake started disappearing.
“The rotation of the water became more violent and active … and the barges would be bumping into one another and sucked into the vortex.”
Boat captain Ores Menard was on one of the barges – and found himself being pulled into the whirlpool.
“That whirlpool was just getting bigger …the swirl was underneath the boat, front end of the boat was up, back was down, we were about to be swallowed,” says Ores remembering it vividly.
As Ores frantically tried to escape death he was blocked by an unmanned barge that had broken its moorings.
“I had the engine wide open, my son was hollering, …..he wanted to jump overboard, crew were hollering to get us out of here, but I couldn’t do anything.”
Suddenly the other barge was sucked into the whirlpool – giving Ores a chance to escape. “After we got out as I turned round I saw the barge was upright and going into the hole.”
Over the next 3 hours, the whirlpool swallowed 11, 61 meter, barges.
But how could such a destructive vortex form in a lake which was just 3 and a half meters deep?
A clue lay 396 meters below the lake – where there was a massive working mine.
Mike Arceneaux used to work in the mine. He had just started his shift, hundreds of feet below the lake, when suddenly water began pouring in.
“I turn around and see stuff and I see huge steel drums floating towards me. You’re thinking boy this is not the way to go’” says Arceneaux.
As the lake above gushed in faster and faster the miners raced towards the lift and reached it just in time.…..
“We close the door, hit the buzzer and the water starts falling underneath. In my mind thinking this thing better take us to the top and just as I was saying that the lift stopped … men started to cry. I was thinking I’m not going to make it out of here.”
The electrics had been overwhelmed by water. But luckily the elevator could be cranked by hand.
“I was just thinking, If this thing could continue to go up everything will be alright and once it reached the top, like an elephant off my shoulder, One guy when he got off he kissed the ground. We’re safe. But you’re thinking about the people still down there and whether or not they can make it.”
Miraculously, the remaining 39 miners escaped just before the mine was completely flooded.
Although the miners didn’t realise it at the time the whirlpool and the mine disaster were connected.
A whirlpool is formed when a hole opens beneath a body of water. As the water is pulled down through the hole it starts to spin – creating a funnel. Just like when you pull the plug out of a bath. So the hole in the mine had formed the whirlpool above it.
It turns out that the hole was made by an oil rig on the lake, that had accidentally drilled through the mine’s roof. Effectively pulling a plug on Lake Peigneur. Due to human error the well was located 400 feet closer to the mine than it was supposed to be. But the drilling error didn’t fully explain what was happening. Because the thing is you need a BIG hole to make a powerful whirlpool – and the hole accidentally drilled into the mine was only 36 centimetres wide.
The whirlpool should have been tiny – but this one was so powerful that even when most of the water had drained into the mine it carried on sucking.
“As we watched the crater just got bigger and bigger,” recalls Mike Richards.
Soon, surrounding land was being sucked down the whirlpool. Soil was peeling off and falling in great chunks. Trees were being sucked into the crater. And even the oil drill was sucked in.
By now 16 billion litres of water was rushing into the mine faster than air could escape.
The pressure caused several 122 meter geysers to shoot up out of the mine. They could be heard over 15 miles away.
And this bizarre freak show of nature still wasn’t finished. Because suddenly the canal that used to flow from the lake INTO the Gulf of Mexico started flowing backwards. Incredibly, sea water rushed along its 19 kilometre length and into the lake – creating a 46 metre tall waterfall, as it fell into the crater.
So how, if the hole drilled into the mine was so small, could it create such a devastating force…?;
Well, this wasn’t any old mine, it was a salt mine.
“One of the dangers you definitely don’t want to see in a salt mine is water. Water getting into a salt mine would be like hot knife through butter,” sasy Mike Arceneux.
Salt dissolves in water which means the 36 centimetre hole rapidly expanded into a terrifying 15 meter cavern.
And since the bigger the hole the bigger the whirlpool, this one became powerful nough to eat up land, destroy boats, homes and even swallow the 46 meter oil rig.
In just 48 hours the lake became 70 acres bigger and over 305 meters deeper.
The freshwater drained away down the mine and seawater from the Gulf of Mexico flooded back in, changing its ecology for ever.
Now, Lake Peigneur is a haven of tranquility but no one will forget that freaky day.