Sinkhole Tips

A sinkhole is defined in Florida law as a landform created by subsidence soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater. A sinkhole may form either by the ground collapsing on itself to form a hole or by the ground settling to form a crater or indentation in the soil. Florida has more sinkholes that any other state in the nation. Most sinkholes in Florida are located in the west-central part of Florida, consisting of Marion, Orange, Sumter, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas counties.

Sinkholes develop underground; their appearance can be sudden and dramatic. Limestone-based soils in humid areas often contain caverns which occur at or near the water table. Roofs of the caverns can collapse, leaving a steep-sided pit that can be a few feet in diameter to several hundred feet. Sinkholes are common in various parts of Florida. If you are concerned of their prevalence in your county, it is recommended that you consult with your counties office of the Department of Natural Resource Conservation.

If sinkholes are under or near a structure, the structure’s integrity can be destroyed. Formations of the sinkhole can also resole in the plugging of underground drainage patterns and a lake can form in the newly formed depression area.

One hazard associated with sinkholes is the possibility of health problems caused by chemicals and other materials contaminating the drinking water supply. A sinkhole can be thought of as a hypodermic needle with a direct line into the water supply. Open sinkholes provide a direct connection between ground water surface water and any contaminants it carries.

Sinkholes have caused damage to highways and roads. Motorists need to BE AWARE of their possible formation. Once they begin to form they can expand rapidly, especially during heavy rains.

Sinkhole formation cannot really be predicted, but there are things people can watch out for and precautions that can be taken.

  • Watch for signs of water disappearing from the surface (for example, the sudden loss of a steam or retention pond).
  • If a sinkhole occurs in an area of traffic, barricade it to prevent motorists or pedestrians from getting to close to it.
  • Remember that the size can continue to increase, so barricade it with ample room to spare.
  • Check fields before undertaking machine-related activities, such as haying or harvesting.
  • Keep tractors and heavy machinery far enough away from the sinkhole, since the ground near the edge can easily give way. It is recommended that machinery stay at least as far from the edge as the hole is deep.
  • Sinkholes will be more prevalent during times of increased and rapid rainfall, such as with the type of rains occurring during a hurricane.
  • Call 9-1-1 and advise them of the sinkhole and of the hole is near utility lines or in a roadway.
  • Restrict access to the hole.
  • Don't get to close to or go down into the hole.
  • Do not allow unauthorized or inexperienced persons to investigate the sinkhole.
  • If the sinkhole is on your personal property, contact your insurance provider for additional instructions.
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