An anonymous writer in the Los Angeles Times edition of 13 January 1896, reported on a strange and terrifying happening that struck the western part of Lake Chapala (Mexico’s largest natural lake)…
Startling Spectacle at Lake Chapala.
- Its Waters Swallowed by a Subterranean Cave.
- Several Pleasure Boats and Their Occupants Engulfed.
SAN DIEGO, Jan. 12.—(Special dispatch.) Prof. E. H. Coffey of this city, has just received a letter from a correspondent. living near Lake Chapala, State of Jalisco, Mex.. which describes some startling phenomena occurring. Lake Chapala is a sheet of water fifty miles long and ten miles wide. The formation of the country around it is purely volcanic.
On the forenoon of January 8 residents in one of the small settlements near the western end of the lake were terrified to see a gigantic whirlpool raging far out on the water. The waters rose in great serpentine movements, and from all directions rushed toward a common center, where a vast cavity seemed to exist. At the same time a heavy, rumbling sound, apparently in the bowels of the earth, took place. The whirlpool was caused by the sudden sinking of a large portion of the lake’s bottom, and before the disturbance subsided several pleasure-boats were drawn into the whirlpool and disappeared with their occupants. It is estimated that a score of lives were lost.
The whirlpool continued for nearly twenty minutes, and when the inhabitants of the surrounding territory turned their eyes from the overwhelming sight they saw that the lake had receded several feet from its former shore line. As the lake is about fifty miles in length, with an average width of ten miles, the enormous amount of water that was swallowed up by the earth may be imagined. After the whirlpool subsided the surface of the lake resumed its placid aspect, and the subterranean rumblings ceased.
There was the greatest excitement among the people for miles in the vicinity of the western end of the lake, the most ignorant and superstitious natives being beside themselves with fear. Years of familiarity with volcanic eruptions and terrestial disturbances did not seem to reassure them during this dreadful experience.
[This post is an edited extract from Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of traveller’s tales]
Natural hazards in Mexico are discussed in detail in chapters 2, 4 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.