The burial ground that swallowed its graves: 50 coffin-shaped sinkholes appear in graveyard… in Gravesend

  • Dozens of coffin-shaped depressions have appeared in the ground
  • Authorities are trying to fill the sinkholes in Gravesend cemetery, Kent
  • Weeks of rain blamed for compacting loose soil on top of the graves
  • Visitors have been warned about ‘carpet’ of grass concealing holes
  • Around 50 graves affected by the subsidence over the past days

By Tom Gardner

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Dozens of coffin-shaped pits have opened up across a cemetery after weeks of rain caused the earth to give way over burial grounds.

The alarming sinkhole phenomenon, which have exposed around 50 unmarked graves, raised fears deep cavities might be concealed just below the grass.

Visitors are being warned to watch their step after the giant holes appeared at Gravesend Cemetery in Kent.

Collapse: Coffin-shaped holes have been opening up in the cemetery in Gravesend as a result of earth movements

Collapse: Coffin-shaped holes have been opening up in the cemetery in Gravesend as a result of earth movements

Warning: Visitors have been told to be careful where they step in this Gravesend cemetery after large holes began to open up

Warning: Visitors have been told to be careful where they step in this Gravesend cemetery after large holes began to open up

Several plots have sunk below ground level following weeks of heavy rain. 

Worried cemetery bosses have revealed they have never before seen graves sinking into the ground on such a scale.

A technique known as backfilling has so far failed, as the heavy rain has seen the soil compact down.

Now visitors have been warned to tread carefully – as holes may be lying underneath a mere ‘carpet’ of grass.

The graves, including those at another cemetery in neighbouring Northfleet, have been sinking into the ground over the last fortnight.

The cemetery in Gravesend where the grave plots have started sinking

The cemetery in Gravesend where the grave plots have started sinking

Unsettling: Heavy rain is being blamed for disturbing the earth and causing graves to collapse in on themselves

Patching up: The local council is busy backfilling the sunken graves with more soil

Patching up: The local council is busy backfilling the sunken graves with more soil

A Gravesham Council spokesman said: ‘It is quite common for graves to sink – especially after a period of heavy rain.

‘However none of the current staff has seen anything on this scale. Both cemeteries have been affected but Northfleet is smaller and has been more manageable.

‘There are two main reasons why it has happened.

WHY DO SINKHOLES HAPPEN?

Urban sinkholes are more common after heavy rain, because they are caused by water flowing through channels below ground and eroding away soil or soft rock like limestone.

As the earth is carried into other parts of the ground large caverns can open up, usually unknown to the authorities or the people living above them.

Once the cavern cannot support the weight of the topsoil above it, it collapses into the ground.

One of the world’s largest sinkholes, the Xiaozhai Tiankeng in China, is more than 2,000ft deep.

‘One is graves are backfilled with loose soil and they sink again once that soil gets so wet and heavy it compacts.

‘One of the first areas that showed a problem had been backfilled three times and needed doing again.

‘Secondly in the old section of the cemetery the graves are deeper, so there are larger cavities for the soil to sink into.

‘We have been working hard to top up the affected graves using extra staff from other teams.

‘It is a gradual process but it is a priority to deal with them.’

 

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