Sinkhole expert: Do not ignore signs of sinkholes

- Sinkholes can take years to form, or they can develop in a matter of hours. As we saw Friday, and in the past, the results can be catastrophic.

FOX 13 spoke with an expert in Land O' Lakes about what's happening underground here in Florida.

We live in what's known as sinkhole alley. Any given day, the ground can drop down, forming a depression or sinkhole. Any imbalance in the Floridan aquifer, the sand, the clay, or the limestone just under the surface can change the world above it.

It can be minor or major and there are many factors at play, including location, rain, drought, soil, and importantly, in this case, how sinkholes are repaired the first time.

“In the limestone, there are caves and when limestone expresses itself at the surface, you can often have springs. That is what you see in Homossassa,” explained USF Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Nicholas Albergo. “Especially if it rains, the overburden, the soil above the limestone, will find these cracks and fissures and channels in the limestone, find their way to the cave, and as that happens, a hole starts to manifest itself above the limestone. but not at the surface.”

The hole gets larger. The roof of the hole collapses. And when the surface above it gets too heavy, it can result in a sinkhole.

Prof. Albergo says there are a number of sinkhole types. Friday’s is known as a cover collapse sink hole and is by far, the most dramatic. While some develop over a long period of time, these can develop very quickly.

“[They are] Typically associated with prolonged periods of rainfall, preceded by long periods of drought. [It’s] not unusual that we see these,” Prof. Albergo said.

Pasco building permits show a 50-foot-deep sinkhole was repaired on the ocean pines property in 2014 for $30,000.

The company - Helicon - installed 33 underpins, stabilizing the home by driving steel piers under its foundation.

“We essentially build a column into the ground much like you'd see on a bridge,” explained Helicon President Jay Silver.

Silver says the project called for much more, including grouting repairs costing more than $100,000, but the client just opted for underpins.

“That does nothing, absolutely nothing to remediate any sinkhole condition, or loose soil that may be around the property or underneath the property,” Silver said.

Albergo added, when both home and ground are properly stabilized, sinkholes usually don't reappear.

“When done right, it works. but that's always the issue: When done right,” the professor commented.

Albergo is also a state-certified neutral evaluator for sinkholes. He shared some telltale signs of possible sinkhole activity below a home, like cracks in concrete or in cinder blocks, or doors and windows not opening right anymore.

If any of that begins to happen, it's a good time to give your insurance company a call.

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