Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

Two homes that were evacuated after Seffner sinkhole are condemned

SEFFNER — Thirty minutes.

That's how long Lisa Jaudon had to sift through her Faithway Drive house of 21 years and remove her most treasured possessions.

She knew everything she would take: her clothes and personal documents. Her late husband's paintings and his poetry.

The firefighter standing outside counted down the minutes. Then seconds.

"It's a strange feeling," Jaudon, 54, said, "to be told that this is probably the last time you'll probably walk into this house."

On Tuesday, Hillsborough County officials informed Jaudon and her neighbor Jeff Allen that their homes were being condemned. Code enforcement said the homes are unsafe.

"There's not one word," Allen, 40, said, "to describe the grief you go through when you're ripped from your home."

Jaudon and Allen, along with their families, were evacuated from their houses about 11 p.m. on Feb. 28 when a sinkhole opened at the house between them, 240 Faithway Drive, killing Jeffrey Bush.

Since the sinkhole formed, engineering consultants assisting code enforcement have conducted "geophysical testing" at the three properties. They probed the soil, conducted electrical surveys and used ground-penetrating sonar, said Hillsborough County spokesman Willie Puz.

The results: The soil under all three properties is unstable due to sinkhole activity.

The properties were condemned.

But the homeowners can move back in if they make repairs, a cost estimated by officials at more than 50 percent of the current value of the homes. Still it's a highly unlikely proposition, given that tests would have to prove that the entire area is stable, Puz said.

Both Jaudon and Allen plan to contact their insurance companies to discuss the findings. Neither has sinkhole insurance, but both have policies that cover catastrophic ground collapse.

Lynne McChristian, Florida spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, has seen similar cases throughout the state.

"The way the coverage may work is that they would be paid their policy limits on the structure of that home," she said.

Some homeowners use the money to repair the homes, she said. Others take the money and move elsewhere, leaving investment groups to swoop in, remake the properties and resell them.

Allen said he will never move back into his house at 238 Faithway Drive.

Jaudon, who lives at 242 Faithway Drive, said she would consider it, but would still worry about her safety.

In some cases, McChristian said, homeowners insurance covers demolition.

Puz, the county spokesman, said the prospect of demolishing the two houses has not been discussed.

Although it is too early to tell if the massive sinkhole will affect property values in that area, a few houses for sale within a half mile of 240 Faithway Drive bumped down the prices after the sinkhole. Two others sold for thousands less than the list price in March.

Allen and Jaudon have not entered their homes since March 2. If they decide to go back in to remove more belongings, they will need another engineer to inspect the property before entering because soil conditions may have worsened over time, Puz said.

Neither homeowner wants to return to recover more belongings.

"I'm not putting my family at risk for furniture," Allen said.

After they were evacuated from their houses, Allen and Jaudon stayed with friends.

Allen moved into a mobile home with his fiancee, 21-year-old son and three dogs. A friend took in Jaudon and her son and daughter.

Both families say they have received some financial help from Hillsborough County Fire Rescue's sinkhole relief fund.

Allen received a $500 gift certificate from the PetSmart in Brandon so he could buy items for his dogs.

This month, county officials placed both families in an extended stay hotel in Brandon, funded by the county's social services and their insurance companies.

Both are still paying their mortgages.

Allen lived on Faithway Drive since 2001. In 1991, Jaudon and her family moved into their home.

The neighbors never talked, only occasionally waving to each other in the front yard when grabbing the mail.

But the sinkhole, they say, has united them.

"It's a horrible way to get to know your neighbor," Jaudon said. "If you had to go through it, it does help to have another family to kind of compare notes and just vent a little bit."

Jaudon still drives by Faithway Drive every week. Chain-link fence surrounds the house she once called home.

"It's just very surreal," she said.

Times staff writer Drew Harwell and staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (813)226-3386.

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