The government of China’s northern city of Tianjin announced Thursday it has evacuated 3,899 of its residents because ominous cracks appeared in the ground near three high-rise apartment buildings.
Tianjin’s municipal government described the situation as “very rare,” a “sudden geological disaster” that might have been caused by previously undetected cavities thousands of feet beneath the city.
City officials said the problem could have been exacerbated by drilling for geothermal wells near the city. According to the International Geothermal Association, there are over 150 wells around Tianjin, which has long been presented as a showcase for the possibilities of geothermal energy and heating. The thermal field surrounding Tianjin covers almost 5,500 square miles, producing significant amounts of water for agriculture and human consumption in addition to heating.
Bloomberg News reported the cracks are located in the Jinnan district of the city, in an area developed by a company called Country Garden. The company attributed the disturbing fissures to “land subsidence after a loss of water beneath the ground.”
The cracks that appeared in Tanjin’s streets and sidewalks are not small affairs. Photos from the city showed streets buckled and torn, as though shattered by an earthquake:
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Tianjin residents also reported some damage to the exteriors of nearby buildings, including tiles falling off the walls.
“The incident adds to concerns for building safety in China, where the government has enforced stricter rules and policies and handed out hefty punishment for lax management of properties. In addition, the Chinese government has recently had several high-level meetings on geological and hidden disaster preparation,” Reuters noted on Thursday.
The three evacuated apartment towers are each 25 stories tall, which is well below the height limits China imposed on new construction in 2022 after a few much taller buildings collapsed or experienced serious structural defects. Before uneasily concluding that incredibly tall buildings with dubious construction standards might be a bad idea, China boasted of having the most super-high-rise buildings in the world.
Tianjin is a massive port city and tourist destination with a population of roughly 15 million people, about a third of them living in the high-rise areas. The city is noted for having a large number of exceptionally tall buildings, several of them over 1,600 feet high.