STOCK PHOTO | Image by Julian Hacker from Pixabay

 – Residents of the gleaming apartment buildings built atop sand dunes that dot Chile’s Pacific coast are expressing mounting concerns for their safety after a series of sinkholes.

Three sinkholes have opened up this year near or directly under the buildings following heavy rainfall. The affected area is just north of the Chilean city of Viña del Mar, one of the South American country’s most popular tourist destinations famed for its picturesque rocky coastline.

One of the sinkholes filled a building parking garage with mud and dirt, practically burying several cars.

“As a family, we decided to leave,” said former resident Gabriel, who declined to provide his surname, pointing to the building where he used to live.

“Even if the view here is really pretty, there’s an imminent risk.”

The most recent sinkholes struck near buildings erected on sand dunes near the town of Concon, located on a marine terrace more than 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level and rich in wildlife. Some buildings suffered significant damage.

Local experts warn that Concon building projects are ill-advised.

“There shouldn’t be construction on the dunes because these are very fragile systems,” said Luis Ribba, a University of Chile geologist, adding that even sound foundations can fail in this environment.

Over the past three decades, a battle has played out over how much of the area should be off limits to development.

Only 12 hectares of the dunes were protected after officials granted the area nature-sanctuary status in 1994, out of a total area that spans 45 hectares.

The unprotected areas have seen some of the most heavily-criticized construction projects, even as new protections authorized in 2006 cover about 22 hectares. – Reuters