Sinkhole swallows homes in Florida

A sinkhole swallowed two homes and kept growing in a neighborhood in Land O’ Lakes, Florida on Friday morning.

A sinkhole in Florida that swallowed two houses appears to have stopped expanding, authorities said Friday night, meaning a recovery and repair operation can begin.

“The hole itself now appears to be dormant,” Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant administrator for public safety, said at a news conference.

Nine other houses have been evacuated in Land O’ Lakes, a residential area about 20 miles north of Tampa, Guthrie said. Power has been cut to around 100 houses in the neighborhood. No injuries were reported.

Authorities were called Friday morning about a depression the size of a small pool that a boat on the property was falling into.

When deputies arrived, the sinkhole had formed and was quickly moving toward one of the houses, Oasco Count Sheriff Chris Nocco said.

Nobody was home, but fire and rescue personnel were able to get two dogs out before the house fell into the sinkhole. Residents of the second house were moved out before the sinkhole reached it, Nocco said.

Video showed the houses breaking apart and falling into water as the sinkhole opened up beneath them.

The sinkhole, estimated to be 250 by 225 feet and 50 feet deep, is full of water and not draining because of debris, Guthrie said. It’s also looks like it’s full of chemicals and septic tank fluid

“We’re treating this in essence as a haz-mat incident,” he said.

Nocco said deputies will be stationed in the neighborhood tonight to protect residents and notify them of any problems.

“For citizens, our hearts break for you,” he said. “We know there’s a high level of anxiety … I know it’s going to be very hard for you to sleep tonight. Any bump in the night, you’re going to wonder what’s going on with your house.”

Earlier in the day, Guthrie and Nocco said they couldn’t predict when the sinkhole would stop growing. It grew 25 feet to 30 feet per hour in the morning but had slowed by afternoon to 10 feet per hour, Guthrie said.

Until it stopped, crews were limited in what they could do, Guthrie said.

“We’ve not had any significant movement in the sinkhole in the last hour and a half or so,” he said about 7:30 p.m. ET Friday, adding that the hole could start growing again if it rains heavily.

Guthrie said the houses were built on the site of another sinkhole that had been “remediated.” Thirty-three underpinnings were placed under one of the houses earlier this year, he said.

The neighborhood uses septic tanks, not a sewer system — a worry since the sinkhole might grow so large it connects to a nearby lake, Guthrie said.

“We will have three if not four septic tanks that will start merging with the lake,” he said.

Nocco urged people to stay away from the neighborhood. A fence will be erected around the affected houses and roads will be closed, he said.

“This is going to be a couple of weeks, maybe a month-long operation,” Guthrie said.