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Are You At Risk for A Sinkhole?


Just imagine you are driving down the street when suddenly your car drops 10 feet down into a huge hole!  That’s what happened to Pamela Knox on July 3, 2013 in Toledo, Ohio.  Fortunately she wasn’t injured, and was helped out via ladder by a local fireman.  

Or how about Mark Mihal, a golfer playing with his buddies at the Annbriar Golf Course in Illinois when he suddenly disappeared on the fairway of the 14th hole.  He fell 18 feet down into a sinkhole and fortunately suffered little more than a dislocated shoulder.  Now he has a golf story almost as good as a hole in one!
Others have not been so lucky – like Jeff Bush of Seffner, Florida, who was swallowed up by a 60+ feet deep hole as he slept.   His body was never recovered.  
A sinkhole is an area of ground without natural external surface drainage, so when it rains all the waters stays inside the sinkhole.  While collapses usually happen after intense rainstorms, drought can also contribute to a collapse.  
The holes are most common in what is called ‘karst terrain,’ where the type of rock below the surface can naturally be dissolved by groundwater circulating through them.  Limestone, gypsum, salt beds and domes and other carbonate rock are susceptible.  With large amounts of rainfall, soluble rock can start to dissolve forming spaces and caverns underground.  So you can’t see land in danger of a sinkhole until it’s too late.   
Geologists estimate that 20% of the United States is built on this kind of terrain and susceptible to sinkholes.  Most of the damage has occurred in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. 
Sinkholes can happen very quickly or slowly over long periods of time.  They can be small enough to be hidden from view, or large enough to sink dozens of homes, swimming pools or major roadways.  
Take the two French cows were surprised to find themselves in a deep hole when they happened to walk over an old underground quarry!  Yes, the cows were rescued and no doubt went on to produce milk for wonderful Brie.  
So how can you avoid falling into the great abyss of a sinkhole?  Or having your home or car swallowed up by one?  (‘Earth Movement’ is excluded on most insurance)  Geologists recommend that you diligently watch your property for small holes in the ground or cracks in a structure’s foundation.  The USGS has useful detailed maps that show areas with the most soluble rock at the surface and subsurface.  That’s the ‘U.S. Geological Survey’ for those of you who haven’t watched the Pierce Brosnan classic ‘Dante’s Peak’ lately.
For more sinkhole photos, click here.  

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