Sinkhole stops growing after swallowing 2 houses in Florida

LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. (AP) — A sinkhole that swallowed a boat and destroyed two homes had stopped growing and officials said Saturday they would monitor it over the weekend before determining when cleanup can begin.

The hole has been stagnant since Friday afternoon, said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant administrator for public safety. He confirmed that the hole, which is 250 feet (76 meters) wide and 50 feet (15 meters) deep, is the largest in three decades in the county, which has a history of sinkholes.

Dramatic video showed the home in Land O’ Lakes, north of Tampa, collapsing into the hole Friday morning. It quickly engulfed one home and a boat and then consumed about 80 percent of another home.

Guthrie said 11 homes in all have been affected. A third home lost about 45 feet of driveway and a septic tank.

Of the other nine evacuated homes, residents were allowed to return to four of them on Saturday afternoon.

Guthrie said that all three homeowners had insurance. No injuries have been reported.

State geologists and environmental officials will continue to monitor the sinkhole over the weekend before determining when cleanup can begin. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has requested that the county and homeowners wait a few more days before doing any recovery work.

The scene is being considered a hazardous materials incident because of possible septic tank issues and building debris. Guthrie said that chemicals from at least three septic tanks are in the sinkhole.

Cleanup will likely take weeks while repairs to the road and the damaged lots will take months.

Jared Hill of the Pasco County Sheriff’s office said that deputies helped one of the homeowners retrieve some items on Friday night and that they would help with the other home on Saturday.

“This is a very catastrophic event,” Hill said. “One resident was going to go on vacation and now that has changed. Now they are trying to get as much out as they can so they can move on with their lives.”

County property records show there was a sinkhole at the property where the first house was swallowed up, and that it had been stabilized in 2014. The home was sold in 2015, according to records. Messages left for its owner were not immediately returned Friday.

Sinkholes are stabilized by boring holes into the ground and injecting concrete.

Records also show a sinkhole was stabilized at the partially destroyed home in 2007. Two sisters renting that home with four other family members said they had left the house early Friday and returned to see their neighbor’s home falling into the sinkhole.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Edilia and Theresa Villa and their relatives had time to retrieve important documents and six dogs from their house before officials declared it unsafe. Theresa Villa’s 15-year-old daughter, Thalia Chapman, told the newspaper the family moved into the home after arriving from Cuba about a decade ago.

Officials said Duke Energy has restored power to the neighborhood.

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