By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Two homes and a boat were destroyed last Friday morning when they fell into a sinkhole in Pasco County, Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post. No one was injured in the sudden collapse.
A third home was initially thought to be in danger of also being swallowed by the sinkhole, which measured 225 feet wide and 50 feet deep. But later in the evening, officials said it appeared that the sinkhole had stopped growing and the home was not damaged.
Sinkhole Was Expanding at Two Feet Per Hour
The sinkhole in the Land O’ Lakes area was larger than several swimming pools and was expanding toward a nearby lake at about two feet an hour, officials said.
Initially, residents in nine surrounding homes were evacuated. Police allowed some residents to return to their homes briefly on Saturday to gather some belongings. However, it could be several days before those residents are able to return permanently.
First responders helped residents, including an elderly woman, get their most important belongings and medications while the ground was collapsing under their homes. The American Red Cross has helped the displaced families.
Officials said the sinkhole was filled with mud and toxic waste, including fuels, septic tank contents and other household hazardous materials.
There is a 200-foot-wide buffer around the sinkhole as a safety precaution. Two Florida geologists are investigating the opening.
Engineers and sheriff’s deputies say they expect to be at the scene for weeks, as the rainy season and weather can exacerbate the situation.
The Interstate 4 corridor in Florida is known as “Sinkhole Alley,” meteorologist Brian Shields of WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando explained. He said Sinkhole Alley encompasses 10 central Florida counties, including Pasco, Hillsborough and Volusia.
Authorities noted that a sinkhole opened on the same property five years earlier and steps were taken to stabilize the ground.
“As we were walking around out there, you could feel that ground. It’s soft, and you can almost feel the ground moving underneath your feet,” Sheriff Chris Nocco of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office told the Palm Beach Post.
“You can see it in the people’s eyes, the anxiety level. They're fearful. And unfortunately, we can’t give them clear answers because this is Mother Nature,” Nocco said.
Sinkholes Are Caused by Erosion or Underground Water
Natural sinkholes occur due to erosion or underground water, according to the website Conserve Energy Future. Sinkholes occur when water continuously seeps between mud, rocks and minerals in the soil as the water makes its way down to ground water reservoirs.
Sometimes, the flow of water increases to a point that it washes away the underground structure of the land. And when the structure becomes too weak to support the surface of the earth, the surface collapses and a hole suddenly opens.
In some cases, signs of sinkhole activity below ground are visible on the surface before the sinkhole appears. Typical signs include:
- Cracks on foundation walls
- Cracks in drywall, especially at top corners of window and door openings
- Cracked or out-of-level floors, slabs, sidewalks or driveways
- Obvious low or sunken areas on your property
- Mildew or wet areas around the foundation
- Leaks in the ceiling and roof
- Nails popping
- Windows or doors that stick or stop working because of settlement or skewed openings
Anyone who suspects sinkhole activity in their property, should promptly call their insurance company. The company will most likely assign an adjuster to handle the case and hire a structural engineer to inspect the property. The engineer will then issue a report that includes a remediation plan, if needed.
That report is used to obtain quotes from foundation repair contractors. It’s smart to get at least three quotes from experienced and reputable local companies that have experience in repairing sinkhole damage.
About the Author
David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. David’s 2015 book, “The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever,” was recently published in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.