Rains spawn Hernando sinkholes
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Kalimanis saw her Lake Forest Avenue backyard crumble twice last summer, and she worried that it might happen again soon. Drew, whose husband repairs sinkholes for a living, suggested Kalimanis have her yard and home tested for sinkhole risk factors.
"I was planning to check it out on Monday," Kalimanis said.
But the skies opened up Friday night, and so, too, did her yard.
She awoke Saturday morning to find county Emergency Management officials cordoning off her property and the retention pond just to the west, where the ground had collapsed under the pressure of collected rainwater.
Her yard contained two of nine sinkholes that opened in Hernando County late Friday and early Saturday, after about five inches of rain fell overnight.
The biggest, in the retention area beyond Kalimanis' yard, was about 40 feet wide and 50 feet deep. Officials also had their eyes on two depressions in the pond that appeared likely to drop.
It's sinkhole season in Hernando County, and in much of Central Florida.
In Orlando this month, a 150-foot-wide, 60-foot-deep sinkhole threatened two apartment buildings and forced dozens of residents to evacuate. Last month, a 10-foot-deep, 15-foot-wide sinkhole collapsed part of Interstate 4 in Lake Mary, about 15 miles north of Orlando.
And in Hernando County, sinkholes are even more common.
Long periods of drought, followed by heavy rainfall, contribute to the problem. The area's thin layer of clay to protect the limestone below doesn't help.
"We're almost used to it now," said Keith Cristinzio, who lives one lot away from Kalimanis. "It's almost like the hurricanes."
During 2001, Hernando County had more than 65 confirmed sinkholes, with the majority concentrated in the small area near Kalimanis' home. Four people evacuated their houses because of sinkholes, and major thoroughfare Mariner Boulevard was closed to traffic for a week.
This year, the news that the sinking season had begun spread quickly. After the first reports aired on television Saturday, the calls started pouring in, said Hernando Emergency Management duty officer Annette Doying.
"It's things they've been worried about for a couple of weeks," Doying said. "Now because it's on the news, they're thinking 'Maybe I should have somebody come out here.' "
Most of the suspected problems turn out to be nothing, she said, but the county responds to each.
Kalimanis' was the real thing, though.
Her house did not appear threatened, but Doying offered Kalimanis shelter until things settled. It can take 48 hours for a sinkhole to become stable, Doying said, and moving Kalimanis might offer peace of mind.
Kalimanis, 60, refused to leave her dog, Pumpkin; kitten, Sleigh; and two-bedroom home of 19 years. She recalled that the county had tried to fix last year's sinkholes, and she'd like to solve it once and for all this year.
"They filled my holes, but they used my sand. (Now) it opened up again. I don't have house insurance and I can't get any work done," said Kalimanis, a cafeteria worker for the county school system.
"I'm not going to live like this again. . . . I thought the county would help."
Kalimanis had a deluge of people in her neighborhood within 30 minutes of a call from a neighbor who saw that a nearby retention pond had caved in on the western edge.
Department of Public Works employees surveyed the area to determine whether any homes or roads were structurally unsafe.
For now, they said, all were fine.
County Administrator Richard Radacky, County Commissioner Betty Whitehouse, several Emergency Management workers and law enforcement officers also came to the site to assess the situation and make sure no one strayed into the danger zones.
Whitehouse said she would try to get financial assistance for Kalimanis through the county Social Services Department. But Radacky doubted that the government could help repair the land or home, where temporary Emergency Management Director Danny Roberts noted cracks that Kalimanis told him had grown.
"It is on private property. I don't think there is anything we can do," Radacky said. "I wish we could. But that's generally why people have insurance."
The National Weather Service predicts scattered rains for the next several days, with the greatest chance for storms, 40 percent, on Monday.
-- Information from Times files was used in this story.
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