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House pops 'a bit' // Sinkholes open up near Lecanto

The cracks in Terri Hope's house have gotten so big that she can stickher fist in them.

Her home on Hollywood Circle has been settling for some time, but the heavy rains over the weekend have made things worse. A sinkhole has formed in the back yard, and experts say the ground under her home has weakened.

This week, she and her 17-month-old son had to move out and stay with a friend.

"There have been quite a few times I've heard the house popping a little bit," said the 26-year-old hairdresser, who has lived there since 1987. "This has scared me a little about ever buying a house again."

She's not the only one with sinkhole problems. The troublesome holes have popped up all over the neighborhoods off Rock Crusher Road this week.

"They are some of the largest sinkholes I've seen in Citrus County," said federal soil scientist Paul Pilny.

The low water levels of recent months have created underground gaps and weaknesses in the sandy soil in that part of the county, Pilny said. Sudden rainstorms like the one last weekend, by placing a heavy weight on the surface, can cause the ground to collapse.

That's what happened at Mike Duncan's house on Woodside Circle.

He and his wife, Angela, saw the rainwater building up in their yard Saturday night, then all of a sudden the water was gone. "Like pulling a plug on a drain," Duncan said.

He went into the back yard to find a hole 9 feet deep and 8 feet wide.

Duncan said he is worried about letting his 4-year-old son play in the back yard, and the drinking water from the well turned brown.

The water since has cleared, but "we're not drinking it until we have it tested," said Duncan, a supervisor with Withlacoochee River Electric Co-Op Inc. Gary Maidhof, a state environmental specialist assigned to the county Public Health Unit, said any sudden changes in drinking water warrant a test, which the county will do for $3.

"I would not drink any drinking water where the quality changes

suddenly," he said.

The area around Rock Crusher Road has long been susceptible to sinkholes, and increased development accelerates the problem by diverting stormwater runoff into concentrated areas, Pilny said.

"I anticipate them every year about this time," he said. "There's all kinds of evidence of instability" in the area.

The county does not fill sinkholes on private property, said Rusty Harry, a county emergency management specialist. But "if it endangers lives or property we might get involved," she said. "When lives or property are in danger we respond."

The sinkhole at Terri Hope's house is the only one reported this week that threatens a home, Harry said.

Some sinkholes can be filled with clay, Pilny said, "and hopefully you can stabilize them." Others require concrete filling.

But there are no guarantees the holes will not return.

"In some instances it's like pouring into a bottomless pit," Pilny said.

"My only advice is to make damn sure you've got sinkhole insurance if you live in Central Florida."