LAND O’LAKES — Ralph Terry, a 73-year-old retiree who lives in a sleepy neighborhood in Florida’s suburbs, seems particularly sanguine about living just a few doors down from a gaping, literal, void in the earth.
“I don’t see no cracks in my blocks in my house,” he said on Tuesday, peering out the front door of his house at the massive hole that has left seven of his neighbors’ homes condemned. Then he paused.
“And anyway, I’m tying a rope to my waist at night and tying it to the tree out back,” Terry chuckled.
Although he joked about the situation that has drawn reporters to his yard like ants to a picnic, Terry conceded that he’s ready to leave at a moment’s notice — which is probably a good thing in this area.
Florida officials say more homes could possibly be condemned due to a massive sinkhole that has already made seven homes unlivable, including two that were consumed entirely by the collapsing hole. There were no injuries.
Authorities in Pasco County, a suburban area north of Tampa, told The Associated Press that engineering surveys are underway.
“I believe that future homes will be condemned based on the fact that we are getting technical surveys back and engineering reports back that say that some of the properties are not safe,” said county administrator Kevin Guthrie.
The sinkhole opened July 14. It now stretches about 260 feet at its widest point.
Contractors have been working to clean debris from the sinkhole. Work temporarily halted on Friday after large chunks of its edge crumbled inward.
People in the two destroyed homes and five condemned homes have been helped by the United Way if they don’t have family or friends to stay with.
Terry says he’s seen neighbors whose homes haven’t been condemned leave because they’re scared.
“There’s people been in here with U-Hauls, loading their furniture and everything. At least I haven’t had to do that. Yet.”
He added that he’s lived in the neighborhood for a year and a half and that it’s a great place to live — or was, until the earth decided to cave in. He doesn’t think he could sell his home now.
He’s gathered some belongings, such as important paperwork, and has stored them in a different location. Otherwise, he’s just waiting to see if authorities condemn his home, too.
“There ain’t much else I can do,” he said.
Florida is highly prone to naturally occurring sinkholes because there are caverns below ground of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water.
Acidic rain can, over time, eat away the limestone and natural caverns that lie under much of the state, causing sinkholes. Both extremely dry weather and very wet weather can trigger sinkholes. State geologists generally consider March through September “sinkhole season” because that’s when the state receives most of its rainfall.
In 2013 in Florida, a 37-year-old man was killed when a hole opened up underneath his bedroom. That sinkhole, which garnered international headlines, opened in Hillsborough County, about an hour south of the sinkhole that swallowed two homes this month.
Engineering experts said it was too dangerous to retrieve the man’s body, so they demolished the home and filled the hole with gravel.
Said Guthrie, the Pasco county administrator: “There’s a lot of individuals over there that are scared. However, they understand that they built on a lake. And they also understand that they built on the town of Land O’ Lakes, and that means that many of those lakes are sinkhole lakes. So they knew they were moving into a sinkhole area. So it’s one of those things like, if I build on the coast of Florida, I’m going to be susceptible to hurricanes. So there’s anxiety, but there’s also a level of, we know what we’re dealing with.”