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City ponders sinkhole's aftermath

The hole, which destroyed half a home last week, should be filled soon, an official says.

By JOE HUMPHREY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2000


SEFFNER -- A bright orange sticker at 5325 Lemon Ave. delivers a painfully obvious message: Walls, foundation, roof, floors unfit -- KEEP OUT.

The sinkhole that swallowed half a duplex Thursday morning isn't getting bigger. But its size, roughly 30 feet deep and just as wide, was enough to destroy the beige, stucco house.

Residents Wally and Theresa Sparks were uninjured and moved most of their belongings out of the south apartment. The north apartment, which absorbed the sinkhole, is a furnished guest house kept by the owner, who lives in Michigan.

Owner Willis Howe will meet today or Wednesday with his insurance company and Bernardo Garcia, Hillsborough County's public works director. Garcia said he'll recommend the house be demolished and the hole filled with dirt and rocks.

"The home is a total loss," Garcia said. "When it's that, we usually demolish it."

Howe and State Farm Insurance can then decide whether to build again on the land, a 9,148-square-foot plot.

State Farm cannot comment on ongoing claims. Howe was unavailable for comment.

Geologists say the house is a casualty of the drought. Water moves through cavities underground. With less water, the cavities are not filled and the empty spaces can't support the weight above.

Sparks and his wife were not home Thursday when the house caved. A smaller sinkhole, about a foot wide, according to Mrs. Sparks, opened in the front yard Wednesday evening, forcing them out. They rushed to evacuate, grabbing their three pet parakeets on the way out the door. The birds remain at a neighbor's house.

That turned out to be a smart move. The couple were allowed back into the house Thursday afternoon, when they grabbed about 90 percent of their belongings. They were not permitted in the room where the birds were kept because the ground beneath it was unstable.

The Sparks moved into another duplex owned by Howe. Mrs. Sparks said it's bigger and nicer.

"We can keep our birds" on the screened-in porch, Mrs. Sparks said.

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