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Villagers in north-east Croatia feared their homes might be swallowed when almost 100 enormous sinkholes appeared in a month. Now scientists are trying to understand if the land that is left is safe. It happened suddenly and without warning. Where there should have been the emerging first shoots of potato seedlings behind the orchard in Nikola Borojević’s spacious garden, there was now huge hole. Measuring 30m (98ft) wide and 15m (49ft) deep, it quickly filled with water. And it wasn’t the only one. Within the space of a few weeks, dozens of similar holes had opened up around the village of Mečenčani and neighbouring Borojovići in north-east Croatia. The one outside Borojević’s home in Mečenčani appeared on 5 January, just six days after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the area around the nearby city of Petrinja. It was the strongest earthquake to have hit Croatia for more than four decades, killing seven people and destroying thousands of homes.

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