MNN Galleries

12 U.S. places where your visit could double the population

By: Laura Moss on Dec. 22, 2017, 9:30 a.m.
A ruined road in Centralia, Pennsylvania

Photo: Navy2004/Wikimedia Commons [CC b 3.0]

3 of 14

Centralia, Pennsylvania

At its peak, this Pennsylvania coal-mining town was home to almost 3,000 people. Today, it has a population of seven. What happened? In 1962, workers set trash on fire in an abandoned mine, but an exposed vein of anthracite coal also caught fire. The fire spread throughout mines beneath the town, and for the next 20 years, numerous attempts were made to extinguish it. Then in 1981, the ground crumbled beneath 12-year-old resident Todd Domboski, and Pennsylvania basically condemned the town and spent $42 million to relocate residents.

The fire continues to burn today — in fact, experts say there’s enough coal to feed the fire for 250 years. Although a handful of people remain in Centralia, all properties in the town were reclaimed by the state under eminent domain, and the borough's ZIP code was revoked in 1992. Residents have filed lawsuits to reverse the eminent domain claim — they believe the state simply wants to get the mineral rights to the coal, which is estimated to be worth $1 billion. In 2013, a court settlement was reached between the town's remaining residents and state officials in which the residents would be allowed to live out the rest of their lives in Centralia and a cash payout of $349,500