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Sinkhole has rattled nerves of neighbors

An expert's warning about potential problems has residents rechecking their insurance policies.

By LEON M. TUCKER
Published July 23, 2003

CLEARWATER - A week after an elderly woman's home on Indigo Drive sunk into the ground, residents there are having a sinking feeling of their own.

Not from movement beneath their homes, but from the prospect that their homes could be next.

About 2 a.m. July 16, Helen Illig said she heard noises coming from her living room and felt her house at 2366 Indigo Drive sink into the ground.

The 83-year-old woman was not hurt.

However, Illig's Texas insurance company had discontinued her coverage in February because it no longer wanted to assume the risk of natural disasters associated with Florida.

Because of the absence of valid insurance, Pinellas County asked R.C. Kannan & Associates Inc. in Largo to survey the property.

They did - for free.

What Kannan found was the subterranean makeup on the sunken property was no different from the six other properties on her side of the 2300 block of Indigo Drive.

Even worse, there were problems with erosion and "very loose soil underneath" the homes at 2384 and 2378 Indigo Drive.

"If things change - like if there is a sudden rain or heavy flood (the ground conditions) could change very drastically," said Ramanuja "R.C." Kannan, engineer and president of R.C. Kannan & Associates. "But the ground has been settling very gradually."

Despite initial concern over the state of their property, residents like James Cook, who lives next door to Illig, are happy for the heads up from Kannan and are eager to investigate further.

"I've already found out my insurance company covers sinkholes," he said. "The next step is finding out how much it will cost to correct the problem."

Nonetheless, Kannan said he plans to send letters to Cook and the five other residents, warning them of the potential problems on their property. He also said he plans to encourage them to contact their insurance companies.

"We think we have an obligation to inform the neighbors and we are going to do that," Kannan said. "A sinkhole collapse will happen soon."

"I can't put a day on it," he added. "One week, one month or one year - but it will happen soon."

Meanwhile, officials with Pinellas County backed away from the problem after learning there no damage was done to the county's infrastructure.

"Obviously there are concerns for the citizens, but our interest is in the infrastructure," said Ronnie Goodstein, director of communications for the county. "It's the county's responsibility to maintain a strong and functional infrastructure.

"It's my understanding that (sinkholes activity on their property) is their responsibility," she added. "And probably the next course of action would be to contact their homeowner's insurance (companies.)"

- Leon M. Tucker can be reached at 727 445-4167 or tucker@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 23, 2003, 01:18:16]


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