A miscalculation turns a very shallow freshwater lake into a very deep saltwater lake.
Lake Peigneur, near the Gulf of Mexico, was at one time a small freshwater lake. Under 11-feet deep, it was a popular fishing and recreation spot.
That all changed on the morning of November 20, 1980, when one of the largest man-made maelstroms in history flushed the lake, barges, big-rig trucks, houses, 65 acres of surrounding land, and a Texaco oil rig into an enormous vortex.
Early that morning, the Wilson Brothers’ drilling crew knew that something was amiss when their 14” drill bit became stuck and the entire platform shook. What they didn’t know was that they had mistakenly drilled through the ceiling of the Diamond Crystal salt mine below. Wisely, they abandoned the structure and fled to the shore, where they watched in horror as their entire 150-foot rig sank into the once-shallow lake. Meanwhile, hundreds of feet below, 55 salt mine workers were scrambling to escape as water poured into the mine. Miraculously, there were no fatalities or serious human injuries that day thanks to well-rehearsed evacuation procedures.
The damage from the all-consuming whirlpool was catastrophic. The freshwater lake became permanently salinated as brackish water from Delcambre Canal and Vermilion Bay poured in, forming a temporary 50-foot waterfall. Meanwhile, compressed air from the mine shafts created 400-foot geysers.
Texaco and Wilson Brothers drilling company paid damages in out-of-court settlements. The mine, which had been in operation for over 100 years, closed in 1986. Today, the only reminder you’ll see of the disaster is crumbling chimney, perched in a shallow part of the water near the shore. Driving along Louisiana Highway 89, you’ll be able to catch brief glimpses of Lake Peigneur’s western edge. But since it’s entirely surrounded by private property, you’ll need to enter Rip Van Winkle Gardens for a closer look at the chimney.
Know Before You Go
To get the best views of what remains of Lake Peignur, enter via Rip Van Winkle Park. You can walk right up to the water's edge for a good view of the chimney.
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