The Florida sinkhole that swallowed two homes last week isn’t getting any deeper, but it’s getting wider, officials said Wednesday – and one resident who’s back home after being evacuated is vowing to stay unless the hole consumes her house.
“I’m apprehensive, a little nervous,” said Patty Camunas, 57, whose family lives near the sinkhole.
But she added, “Where are you going to go? There are sinkholes all over Florida. Unless something happens that the sinkhole takes my house, I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”
Camunas was at work Friday morning when the sinkhole swallowed one house about 200 feet behind hers. Her husband and daughter were home when officials told them to evacuate. They were allowed to return Saturday but decided to give it an additional 24 hours. On Sunday, they returned.
“The only thing we lost is the food from the power being shut off,” she said.
Now, she said, the main commotion on her cul-de-sac is from curious people driving to the neighborhood to take selfies with the sinkhole in the background.
During a news conference Wednesday, officials in Pasco County – a suburban area north of Tampa – said that because of the sinkhole’s growth, residents of two additional homes in the neighborhood have been warned they may need to evacuate. They were told to gather their possessions in preparation of leaving, said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant administrator for public safety.
Five homes near the sinkhole already had been evacuated.
“This is not a time for panic. We have somebody out here monitoring this sinkhole, monitoring the expansion. We will let people know in plenty of time that they need to get their stuff together and be ready to go,” Guthrie said. “When we say, ‘Now is the time to leave.’ It’s time to leave. It’s not time to pack things up.”
The edges of the sinkhole are caving in because there’s no support for the sandy soil as it dries out, officials said.
It’s now about 235 feet (72 meters) wide, about 10 feet (3 meters) wider than it was several days ago. It remains 50 feet (15 meters) deep.
As the water in the sinkhole recedes, the sand on the right-angled banks can’t support the weight of the ground and it’s giving away. Engineers believe the solution lies in quickly getting dirt into the area to create a sloping bank that can keep the edges of the sinkhole from falling in, Guthrie said.
“We’re working to that end right now,” Guthrie said.
Engineers hope to start bringing in dirt and removing debris over the weekend, or early next week.
None of 20 water wells tested came back positive for E. coli, but water samples from 17 of the wells will be re-tested for any signs of contamination. Greg Crumpton, a local health official, said elements found in water from those wells may be the result of improper maintenance by homeowners, but health officials want to make sure it’s not from the sinkhole.
Pasco County’s risk manager has told officials that the response to the sinkhole could cost at least $1.5 million but it will be likely much more, Guthrie said.
For Camunas, a lifelong Florida resident who built her home in Pasco in 1982, sinkholes are part of life. She’d heard about a sinkhole in years past in another part of her subdivision.
Florida is highly prone to naturally occurring sinkholes because there are caverns below ground of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water.
Acidic rain can, over time, eat away the limestone and natural caverns that lie under much of the state, causing sinkholes. Both extremely dry weather and very wet weather can trigger sinkholes. State geologists generally consider March-September “sinkhole season” because that’s when the state receives most of its rainfall.
In 2013 in Florida, a 37-year-old man was killed when a hole opened up underneath his bedroom. That sinkhole, which garnered international headlines, opened in Hillsborough County, about an hour south of the sinkhole that swallowed two homes this month.
Engineering experts said it was too dangerous to retrieve the man’s body, so they demolished the home and filled the hole with gravel.
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