Gone, 'like a rug being pulled'

A 50-foot-wide sinkhole surprises homeowners, but not a soil scientist. He says the lack of rain and the geology near Rock Crusher Road make holes likely.

Published April 13, 2006

CRYSTAL RIVER - Ray Sancho looked through the patio screen doors to see what all the loud pounding next door was about. Since 7 in the morning, workers had being using a drill to work on his neighbor's well.

From his patio, even before he came outside, Sancho noticed a hole in his back yard at 1931 S Campbell Point off Rock Crusher Road.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "There's never been a hole there."

He took a closer look and his suspicions were confirmed. He went back inside the house and told his wife. "Don't panic," he told her. "But we've got a problem."

The Sanchos' problem was a sinkhole that by the end of the day measured 50 feet wide and about 20 feet deep.

Sancho's wife, Leticia, started crying when she went outside and saw the hole.

The couple called 911. By 11:30 a.m, they had sheriff's deputies and much of the neighborhood staring at the gaping hole in the ground.

Then they heard the rumbling.

For the next hour, the Sanchos watched the ground slowly disappear beneath them, layer after layer.

The sinkhole swallowed scrub oak trees and pulled a nearby tool shed off its foundation. It also separated a slab of concrete with patio chairs from the ground.

"It was like a rug being pulled," Sancho said. "Everything was slipping."

Sancho said he has called his insurance company, which promised to send someone within 48 hours to assess the damage to his property.

In the meantime, deputies have cordoned off the site with yellow tape.

Sancho dug his hands into the cracks on the ground.

"I just hope it stops before it gets to my house," he said.

Retired federal soil scientist Paul Pilny said he was not surprised that a sinkhole opened when and where it did near Rock Crusher Road.

Over the years, he has seen many sinkholes in that area. "There's a high potential for sinkhole activity out there," Pilny said. "I've been out to that Rock Crusher area a lot of times."

Two geological formations meet in the zone that runs from Meadowcrest down the Rock Crusher Road area. Pilny said he has seen holes form under roads and in drainage retention ponds in the region. Just a few years ago, a sinkhole opened up in a retention area in the nearby Crystal Oaks subdivision.

The rocky underground formations in Citrus County get thinner and thinner the farther west one travels, he said.

Pilny said the timing of the sinkhole is also no surprise.

Sinkholes tend to form this time of year when the dry season becomes the rainy season. And with so little rain in the last few months, Pilny said, the water table is very low and so there is no buoyancy to hold up the fragile rock.

The fast, heavy rain over the weekend could have added to the problem, putting pressure on the ground. Any pounding or vibrating nearby, such as vibrations from well drilling, could collapse the ground into the pre-existing void.

"The sinkhole was always there. It was just waiting for something to trigger it," Pilny said.

Usually the sinkholes in the region are many but small. Pilny said he was surprised at the size of this one. "That is a big one," he said.

Pilny also had a dire prediction given that current conditions are so favorable for the formation of these sinkholes.

"I'm afraid we're going to see a spate of them," he said. "The water tables are so low."