Thirty Years Ago, a Louisiana Lake Turned Into a Swirling Pit of Destruction

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In 1980, Texaco drilled down to look for oil beneath Lake Peigneur. A little too far down. The mistake drained the entire lake like a bathtub, creating an enormous whirlpool that consumed barges, drills, and 65 acres of land. Oops.

The error lay in the fact that the Diamond Crystal Salt Company was simultaneously operating beneath the lake, essentially creating a giant bubble for Texaco to pop. As the drilling proceeded, Texaco workers found their gear stuck. The drill would go no further. Then, suddenly, it went further. A lot further. The entire 150 foot tall contraption sunk beneath the water's surface—the surface of a lake that was only 10 feet deep. But their drill was just the start.


As the hole into the mine widened, the vortex accelerated and created massive landslides, pulling anything and everything into its maw. Eleven barges, a tugboat, enormous swaths of forest—everything in or around the water was sucked down. The whirlpool's power was so great that it reversed the flow of an entire canal that normally flowed outward from Peigneur. This body now surged back into the depleted chasm, creating, temporarily, the tallest waterfall in Louisiana state history. It was the sole moment in history during which the Gulf of Mexico flowed north. And as if this weren't enough to cheer up the Texaco team, staring with what must have been one of the greatest Oh, shit expressions in the history of mankind, the downward flow displaced subterranean air that blasted out of the ground in the form of a 400-foot tall geyser. Quite a day at work.

Incredibly, not a single person died. So, 30 years later, we'll congratulate those who were able to make it out safely and help others during the disaster—but this isn't exactly a happy moment in the history of tech. Still, it might make your next workplace screwup seem a little less dire.

Archival film stills via the History Channel