In Southern Louisiana, the ground is literally crumbling beneath a once idyllic community.

Following the collapse of an underground salt dome cavern 40 miles south of Baton Rouge, residents of rural Bayou Corne have found themselves uncomfortably close to a new neighbor — a gas-emitting, 22-acre sinkhole that is slowly turning the area into a liquefied wasteland.

"We just feel that this place is not ever going to be what it once was," said Bucky Mistretta, one of the 350 residents of the bayou community. "It was just a beautiful, pristine place on the bayou. And now that's gone, and we just don't feel safe about what's underneath us."

The Associated Press reports that the sinkhole, which was discovered last August, is the result of a botched mining job inside the Napoleon Salt Dome. Miners with Texas Brine Company purportedly caused the "unprecedented" collapse when their drilling skimmed the side wall of the cavern.

Texas Brine Co. is currently negotiating buyouts with residents who have not yet joined the class-action lawsuit scheduled for next year. The company has already been fined $260,000 by the state for their delayed response to state directives and slow implementation of containment measures.

So far, about half of the households have accepted the buyout. Sonny Cranch, a spokesperson for Texas Brine Co., told reporters that the company has yet to decide what to do with the properties they buy.

"Unfortunately and sadly enough, I think we are going to witness the partial destruction and elimination of a wonderful little community here on the bayou," said Dennis Landry, a local property developer who has decided to remain in the area despite the growing sinkhole.

"It's hard to leave a beautiful little bayou paradise unless you feel it's absolutely necessary, and thus far, we're just hanging on," he told reporters. "We go to the meetings. We get daily reports. We check the blog for any information. We have gas monitors inside of our homes. We just take it day by day."

Besides dissolving a picturesque bayou community, the sinkhole threatens to encroach on the local infrastructure by compromising the foundation of Louisiana 70 — a state highway that runs through the area. In addition, officials express fear that the natural gas it emits may cause minor explosions in confined spaces.