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Seoul Searches for Sinkhole Answers

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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The Summer of Sinkholes has left the city of Seoul scrambling for construction culprits both above and below ground.

At least one deep sinkhole and newly discovered underground damage in the South Korean capital are now being tentatively laid to "mismanagement" by Samsung Construction & Trade (C&T), a major Korean construction firm that is building a subway under the city.

But construction above ground is not off the hook yet.

Widespread public concern erupted earlier this summer as several sinkholes opened up in the neighborhood where the $3.5 billion Lotte World Tower is under construction. Although the skyscraper construction was not necessarily considered the cause of the sinkholes, the holes sparked alarm over the structure's stability.

Seoul sinkhole

A new sinkhole, five meters deep, erupted Aug. 12 in Seoul. The hole is at least the fifth this summer.

Seventy of the tower's 123 stories are complete; the complex also includes other buildings and an amusement park. The tower will be the tallest in the country and the sixth tallest in the world.

Construction of the tower was put on hold earlier this month after the sinkholes erupted, and an investigation team of public- and private-sector experts began looking into the issue Aug. 5.

Also stalling the project is a long list of new disaster-prevention measures that the city is insisting on before it will allow the completed retail complex to open, the Wall Street Journal reports.

New Hole

Meanwhile, another sinkhole opened up Aug. 12 about one kilometer from the Lotte site. This one, at least the fifth reported this summer, was 2.5 meters wide and five meters deep—much larger than the earlier holes, officials said.

On Thursday (Aug. 14), the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) announced that the preliminary investigation pointed to construction of a subway line as the cause of the latest sinkhole, reports said.

Seoul tunnel

An inspector describes a newly discovered tunnel that investigators found underneath a road in southern Seoul while examining a new sinkhole. The tunnel is 80 meters long.

The "investigation team reached a conclusion that underground subway tunnel construction underneath the road was the likely cause,'' an SMG official said.

''The mismanagement of the construction firm was likely to blame.''

The investigators also announced that they had "unexpectedly found" a tunnel eight meters wide, five meters deep and 80 meters long underneath the Seokchon Underpass, which is the near the site of the sinkhole, according to The Korea Times.

The team also discovered cracks in the underpass's 25 columns, local media reported.

Multiple Theories

Park Chang-geun, a Gwandong University professor participating in the investigation, said, “The distance between here and the second Lotte World is very far, and Seokchon Lake is in the middle, so there’s little chance of any relation between the sinkhole and Lotte World."

Seoul sinkhole
Korea Today

South Korea's capital has seen about a half-dozen new sinkholes this summer.

On the other hand, Park told told the Associated Press earlier this month that underground water was pooling in the sixth basement level of the Lotte tower, suggesting water displaced from the lake. The lake's water level has dropped from 16.5 feet to 14 feet recently, the AP reported.

Contractor Denies Responsibility

Samsung C&T issued a statement after the investigators' announcement, saying the company had found no particular problems in the area during construction.

Furthermore, the team's findings were described as preliminary, and another report suggested that the tower construction may yet be a factor in the sinkholes.

Lotte World Tower
Wikimedia Commons / Teddy Cross

Seventy of the Lotte World Tower's 123 stories had been completed as of July.

"We're investigating the possibility of damaged sewage systems or weakened foundations due to subway construction, but we can't rule out that it's got something to do with the construction of the second Lotte World," a Seoul city official told The Chosunilbo

Lotte has also denied responsibility for the sinkholes.

A spokesman told the news outlet that investigations had shown that the previous four sinkholes "had nothing to do with the construction project… and the latest one is a long way from the construction site."

Seoul has seen more than 130 sinkholes erupt in the last five years, raising concerns of structural ability and safety throughout the capital, according to Korea Today.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Commercial Construction; Concrete defects; Developers; Health and safety; Office Buildings; Rail; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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