Sinkhole swallows homes in Land O' Lakes

- A 225-foot sinkhole that swallowed two homes and emptied a Pasco County neighborhood Friday morning may have finally stopped growing, but officials warned they will wait 36-48 hours before starting work to repair the damage.

The homes at 21825 and 21835 Ocean Pines Drive in Land O’ Lakes fell into the watery hole Friday morning. Firefighters said they got a 911 call just after 7 a.m. and the hole grew within minutes after that.

"We came in the house and we didn't have time to react; didn't get all of our stuff.  We came back and the whole neighbor's side was cracking. We called 911 and all this stuff. It started collapsing, and their boat started going down and our boat started going down so we had to evacuate," Thalia Chapman recalled.

The view from SkyFOX showed a mess of mud and debris. A Pasco County Emergency Management spokesman estimated it was 50 feet deep, 220 to 250 feet wide and continuing to grow.

Deputies have cordoned off a portion of the neighborhood and said state geologists recommend keeping people at least 200 feet away from the edge of the hole. Only residents with identification are being allowed into the area to get valuables from the evacuated homes -- in some cases, accompanied by firefighters.

READ: Geologist warns, do not ignore signs of sinkholes

Pasco County said it is now treating it as a HazMat situation because there could be septic tank issues and building debris in the hole.

No injuries have been reported. Eleven homes have been evacuated so far, though there could still be more.

"If we need to come and knock on your door, you should be ready to go. We will continue to back this up about 100 feet at a time or whatever the building inspector tells us," said Kevin Guthrie, assistant county administrator. "This is a very fluid situation. The sinkhole, by no means, is stable."

Sinkholes are a regular occurrence in Central Florida due to the nature of the state's geology. Smaller holes are common, though they have been known to damage and even destroy entire homes.  

In 2013, a hole opened suddenly underneath a home in Seffner, killing a man as he slept, then reopened two years later.

Initially, authorities called this hole a "depression" but later categorized it as a sinkhole -- an important distinction for insurance purposes. State geologists are on hand to evaluate the scene, but full repairs could take weeks or months and could be complicated by the amount of water in the hole.

"What ends up happening is, as the earth opens up, it opens up to the aquifer below -- the Florida aquifer. That fills the hole with water, and that's where the water comes from," Guthrie explained. "As debris falls into it, the typical sinkhole drains out. But because there's so much debris, this sinkhole has not started draining."

The hole is just one home away from an arm of Lake Saxon. Officials were worried that if it continued growing, it could ultimately reach the lake itself, further inundating the neighborhood. Friday evening, however, that seemed not to be the case.

"Mother Nature is going to take what Mother Nature is going to take," Guthrie added late Friday morning.

County records show that a 50-foot-deep sinkhole on this same Ocean Pines Drive property was remediated in 2014 at a cost of over $30,000.  A company named Helicon installed 33 underpins, driving steel piers under the foundation of the home to stabilize it.

Helicon’s president said the insurance company engineer on this project had called for much more – 300 to 400 cubic yards of grout, which would have been about 30 to 40 cement trucks, plus 3,000 pounds of chemical grout.

He said that kind of repair work may cost more than $100,000. But in this case, the client opted for the underpins instead.

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

READ: Deputy helps family as home threatened by sinkhole

In checking permits, FOX 13’s Craig Patrick could not find any other sinkhole-related projects on that street, including at the house next door.

In terms of what a contractor can do now, Helicon said the first step is to wait for it to stabilize, then engineers have to check the scope or the extent of the damage, fill it with fill dirt, compact it, fill it again, and take it from there.

AT A GLANCE: 

- The hole opened up behind a home at 21825 Ocean Pines Drive, Land O' Lakes
- First call came in to Pasco County communications at 7:21 a.m.
- Fire Rescue crews arrived at 7:36 a.m.
- Two homes are destroyed:  21835 Ocean Pines Drive and 21825 Ocean Pines Drive
- No injuries have been reported
- A state geologist has verified it's an active sinkhole, still growing
- Need to maintain a 200- to 300-foot perimeter
- 11 homes have been voluntarily evacuated from the area.
- Pasco Fire Rescue rescued two dogs from one home.
- On scene are Pasco Sheriffs Office, Fire Rescue, Emergency Management, Road and Bridge, Building Inspections, Red Cross, Duke Energy, Spectrum.
- Citizens who need help can reach out to Red Cross, Salvation Army, and County Human Services at (727) 847-2411.
- 100 homes are without power in the neighborhood.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office has Checkpoints for residential proof of address at:
- Cloverleaf and Pine
- Grove and Pine
- Lake Padgett Dr. and Ocean Pines Dr.

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