Causes and consequences of the sinkhole at El Trébol of Quito, Ecuador – implications for economic damage and risk assessment
Abstract. The so-called El Trébol is a critical road interchange in Quito connecting the north and south regions of the city. In addition, it connects Quito with the highly populated Los Chillos Valley, one of the most traveled zones in the Ecuadorian capital. El Trébol was constructed in the late 1960s in order to resolve the traffic jams of the capital city and for that purpose the Machángara River was rerouted through an underground concrete box tunnel. In March 2008, the tunnel contained a high amount of discarded furniture that had been impacting the top portion of the tunnel, compromising the structural integrity. On 31 March 2008 after a heavy rainfall a sinkhole of great proportions formed in the Trébol traffic hub. In the first few minutes, the sinkhole reached an initial diameter of 30 m. The collapse continued to grow in the following days until the final dimensions of 120 m in diameter and some 40 m of depth, revealing the Machángara River at the base of the sinkhole.
A state of emergency was declared. The cause of the sinkhole was a result of the lack of monitoring of the older subterranean infrastructure where trash had accumulated and damaged the concrete tunnel that channelized the Machángara River until it was worn away for a length of some 20 m, leaving behind the sinkhole and the fear of recurrence in populated areas.
With the intent to understand the causes and consequences of this sinkhole event, rainfall data are shown together with hydrogeological characteristics and a view back to the recent history of sinkhole lineation or arrangement of the city of Quito. The economic impact is also emphasized, where the direct costs of the damage and the reconstruction are presented and compared to indirect costs associated with this socio-natural disaster. These analyses suggest that the costs of indirect financial damage, like time loss or delay, and subsequent higher expenses for different types of vehicles, are equivalent to many times the costs of the reconstruction of El Trébol.