Living a nightmare in China's city of sinkholes

Story highlights

  • When cracks appeared in Xiao's house he feared the worse
  • Xiao's hometown, Jining, is one of China's massive "coal cities"
  • He watched many of his neighbors' homes sink into the ground
  • Officials: Sinkholes devouring 20 million square meters of land here a year
Four months after he built a new, two-story brick house in his village in northern China's Shandong Province, Xiao Guoqiang was alarmed to find a huge crack on the living room wall.
Having seen homes in neighboring villages sink, Xiao realized his long-held fears were coming true.
"I knew the day was coming, but I didn't expect it to happen so soon," said Xiao, who has been forced to move from the land -- on which four generations of his family have lived -- as a consequence.
Xiao's hometown, Jining, is one of China's "coal cities," whose mineral wealth helps light up the night skies of the world's most energy-hungry country. The land here is honeycombed with coal mines, which can form massive sinkholes that leave thousands of homes uninhabitable every year.
Ten years ago, the area where Xiao lived was a vibrant farming community on the North China Plain. But sinkholes are devou