The sinkhole didn’t stop growing until it had swelled to 220 feet, a crater that threatened 11 more homes in the Land O’ Lakes community of 32,000. County officials said Saturday that the massive hole is the largest sinkhole reported in three decades.
Video from the scene captured the crater’s devastation: A house crumbled into the ground as sirens wailed in the background and debris bobbed in the suburb’s newest body of water. Overhead pictures showed homes and yards bisected by the sinkhole, which was perilously close to other buildings.
No one was injured, authorities said, but some families in the homes on Ocean Pines Lane lost everything.
Kevin Guthrie, assistant county administrator for public safety for Pasco County, told reporters at a Saturday morning news conference that it could take months to clean up the debris and stabilize the sinkhole. Authorities also have to be careful that household chemicals and other hazardous materials didn’t leach into groundwater during the cleanup.
“We know that there’s contaminants,” Guthrie said. “We know for sure there’s a car in there, a garage and all the chemicals inside, a drain field of one septic tank.”
He added that the sinkhole hadn’t grown in diameter overnight, although it had deepened nearly six inches. Officials were monitoring cracks around the crater for any signs of change but were no longer worried that rain expected Saturday would further destabilize the sinkhole.
Photos of an expanding sinkhole swallowing houses in Florida
“If we get bad weather at this point, I think we’re going to have the normal associated signs of erosion, but not the dramatic pictures we saw at 9, 9:30,” Guthrie said. “Coming up on hour 17 of no activity … we’re confident the rain is just going to be a minor situation.”
Authorities plan to have experts assess the crater before beginning the tedious cleanup process.
The sinkhole opened up where a previous sinkhole had been stabilized in the past. Guthrie said the foundation had been reinforced with steel pins in 2016, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
But Guthrie said Saturday that the sinkhole had expanded well past that point. Developers are allowed to build homes on the site of a stabilized sinkhole if they disclose that fact to buyers, he said.
Guthrie said there are theories that the sinkhole may eventually merge with a nearby lake about 200 feet away.
“Mother Nature is going to take what Mother Nature is going to take,” he said.