The cold weather is gone, but the headaches it caused in Hillsborough County got worse on Thursday.
As repairs to a sunken stretch of Interstate 4 near Plant City continued, cracks forced the closure of U.S. 92, a crucial I-4 detour. Meanwhile, county officials declared a local state of emergency Thursday night, allowing people living in some 600 homes with dry wells to start getting bottled water today.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham convened the county's Emergency Policy Group, which cleared the way for emergency managers to distribute water at eight fire stations in Dover and Plant City from 9 a.m. today through Monday.
"I didn't want to wait," Higginbotham said. "We have the responsibility during this gap period to make sure people have drinking water."
The dry wells are being caused by farmers in eastern Hillsborough County dumping water on their berry crops to protect them from the recent cold weather. The heavy pumping continued to take its toll on east Hillsborough roadways Thursday.
Rush-hour motorists trying to avoid that massive conga line of taillights on eastbound I-4 lost one detour when the state Transportation Department closed U.S. 92 between Turkey Creek and Thonotosassa roads in Plant City.
The fissures, described by officials as "longitudinal cracks" in the asphalt, were discovered about noon by DOT road crews along U.S. 92 at Ritter Street and Turkey Creek and Moores Lake roads.
Transportation officials feared the cracks could turn into depressions in the asphalt. They routed traffic onto State Road 574. Traffic on eastbound I-4 in the Plant City area has been choked since Tuesday, when a depression in the roadway was discovered.
U.S. 92 had been a detour for thousands of eastbound commuters after the I-4 depression was found near Branch Forbes Road, forcing officials to funnel three lanes of eastbound traffic into one.
Workers were still pumping concrete into the ground Thursday to fill the I-4 depression, DOT spokeswoman Marian Scorza said. So far, 400 cubic yards of concrete have been pumped beneath the surface. The eastbound lanes should reopen by Monday, she said.
The empty space underground was seeming like a bottomless pit.
"They'll keep pouring in concrete until it starts coming up. Right now, they're pouring in concrete and it's still going down," Scorza said.
Sinkholes were also causing havoc on local roads. The county has closed parts of some 15 other roads, including busy stretches of North and South Branch Forbes Road west of Plant City. Another 10 sinkholes near other roads were being monitored Thursday evening.
Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report.