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New sinkholes or false alarms?

Geotechnical engineers have identified 10 "areas of concern" along Mariner Boulevard, once again delaying the opening of the road.

Bill Appleby, director of county Emergency Management, said the spots could be sinkholes waiting to happen _ or they could be false alarms. Workers will do further testing today to refine their readings.

"These are areas where (the engineering firm) has said, "Something may not be right here. These look a little funny,' " Appleby said Wednesday. "If there are additional problems, we certainly don't want to put people in harm's way. We want to err on the side of caution."

Most likely, the road will not reopen until Monday. At the earliest, the barricades could come down by Saturday.

Officials can determine trouble spots by drilling into the ground with radar equipment. The radar can detect voids and unstable areas, just as an X-ray can spot broken bones, Appleby said.

Some residents along the detour route are more frustrated by the repair delays than the threat of sinkholes.

"The only problem I'm having is now my street is loud," complained Scott Hancock, who lives on Claymore Street, one block west of Mariner Boulevard.

The proliferation of holes has not let up either, expanding beyond the initial cluster along Mariner as far north as State Road 50 and as far west as Commercial Way. So far, the sinkhole count stands at about 40, with at least 20 more complaints for technicians to check out today. Three houses have been evacuated.

Rain could make things worse, adding weight to already unstable ground. Today should be partly cloudy with a 40 percent chance of morning and early afternoon showers, said National Weather Service meteorologists. On Friday, the chance of rain rises to 50 percent, and on Saturday it will be 60 percent, with numerous showers and thunderstorms predicted. Sunday should be partly cloudy with a 40 percent chance of rain.

Emergency Management has received so many calls that Pinellas County workers are coming up to help answer phones and check out complaints, Appleby said.

_ Discuss this and other issues in our Web-based discussion forum at http://www.sptimes.com/

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