Orlando, Ocala living up to 'sinkhole alley' name as geologists brace for more

Geologists say rain, storms cause more sinkholes

By Erik Sandoval - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - As more rain falls on the Orlando area, Florida geologists are bracing for the possibility that more sinkholes will open up.

Dr. Anthony Randozzo, professor emeritus of geology at the University of Florida, said Hurricane Irma caused more than 400 sinkholes to open last year.

"A tropical storm or hurricane can trigger sinkholes," Randozzo said.

The tropical weather bringing in inches of rain most likely weakened the ground underneath a retention pond near Wynchase Townhomes in Ocala, causing 15 sinkholes to open up last month and forcing some nearby residents to evacuate.

"That water is heavy, and if it just happens to be placed over the place were you have nearest surface cavities, you can get the collapse of those cavities and the production of a sinkhole," he said.

According to CDS Business Mapping and its RiskMeter, Central Florida appears several times on the list pf the top 10 most sinkhole-prone counties, which are:

1. Pasco
2. Hernando
3. Hillsborough
4. Marion
5. Pinellas
6. Citrus
7. Polk
8. Orange
9. Seminole
10. Lake

See breakdown of all reported sinkholes in Central Florida here.

Randozzo said more sinkholes will open, but pinpointing where is impossible.

Central Florida lies right in the middle of what he calls "sinkhole alley," the area that begins along the I-4 corridor and stretches north to Tallahassee.

A map of all of the sinkholes reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows sinkhole alley lives up to its name.

The map shows that very few sinkholes have been reported in Brevard and Osceola counties, compared to areas such as metro Orlando, the Villages and Marion County.

[RELATED:  Sinkholes: How do they form, what causes them? | 'It sounded like a bomb:' 8 possible sinkholes open near Ocala homesGrowing number of sinkholes threaten Ocala homes]

The map shows that many of the sinkholes follow major roadways, including I-4 and Highway 441.

"We're building more and more on land that perhaps we shouldn't build on, or we haven't done the appropriate testing before we built on it," Randozzo said.

He said more sinkholes are on the way, and some of them may be larger than the ones that have recently opened.

"The last major one was in Winter Park in 1981. Well, heck, that was only 30 to 40 years ago," he said.  "You're going to get those events happening in the future."

Randozzo shared some tips on what to look out for before a sinkhole opens near a home.

He said residents should look for walls cracking, tilting of the home's foundation and windows, and doors that are suddenly difficult to open.

If any of those warning signs are observed, he said, residents should call their insurance company or a geologist immediately.

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