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Is trying to predict sinkholes like a fish trying to ride a bicycle?

Mon Nov 9th, 2015 on     Homeowners Insurance,    

More than two years have passed since a sinkhole opened in Seffner, swallowing a portion of a house and killing a 37-year-old man. The victim’s body was never found. In time, the house was demolished, the sinkhole was filled and stabilized — or so authorities believed. The hole opened again in August.

Two miles away, another sinkhole has formed that may soon claim two duplexes and a garage. The occupants of the homes have been evacuated, and the media seems to be there for the duration. The hole has grow larger by the day. When it first appeared, authorities estimated it was 22 feet across and 27 feet deep. Three days later, it had grown to 27 feet across and 30 feet deep. A three-story building could easily disappear in a hole that big.

Seffner is in Hillsborough County, one of the counties that make up Florida’s Sinkhole Alley. These central counties are at the greatest risk, but as we have said before, the rest of the state is not immune. That’s just one reason sinkhole insurance is so often a topic of debate among lawmakers. Even if we all agree that everyone needs it, we cannot agree on how much coverage is adequate and what kind of damage should be covered.

As we wrote in March 2013, the Seffner property had passed an insurance company’s sinkhole inspection just a few months before the disaster. But sinkholes are difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

That’s not to say there aren’t some warning signs that homeowners should be aware of.

  • Fence posts, building foundations and trees are more exposed at their bases, as if they were rising up out of the ground 
  • Fence posts, trees, flag poles and the like begin to sag or to slump
  • Windows and doors don’t close properly
  • Water collects or forms ponds in one or more new places
  • The water from wells in the area becomes cloudy or hazy
  • Small circular areas of grass or other vegetation wilt
  • Cracks appear in walls, floors and pavement
  • “Chimney” holes appear in the ground — that is, deep, narrow holes that go straight down to the aquifer

Homeowners that notice an unusual number of these factors or particularly severe incidences of any one factor should contact their property insurance company, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. If the water supply may be affected, a call to the local Water Management District would be appropriate.

Sources:

WFLA.com, “Sinkhole warning signs in Florida,” Nov. 4, 2015

USA Today, “Florida sinkhole growing, may swallow house,” Jonathan Petramala, Nov. 2, 2015

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