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Rains bring a dozen sinkholes to Spring Hill

A dozen sinkholes emerge after heavy rains in a section of Spring Hill used to the problem. The home a family rents is condemned.

[Times photo: Kevin White]
From left, Mark Withington, Ricky Leach and Jim Davenport, employees of Florida Water Services, view a sinkhole in a retention pond on the east side of Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 13, 2001


SPRING HILL -- Young Darryl Hunter was playing video games Thursday when he heard a strange sound.

"My brother thought it might be someone in the house, but then we heard this cracking noise," the 12-year-old boy said. "I looked around and saw the walls were cracking, the tiles were cracking."

By the time help arrived at the home at 11053 Marysville St. rented by Darryl and Delzora Hunter, the house's bathroom had begun to sink into the ground, and one-third of the residence was leaning at a strange angle -- the victim of one of 12 sinkholes that opened in the neighborhood after Wednesday's heavy rains.

"There was no . . . warning," said Gloria Hunter, the children's grandmother, with whom the family will now be staying.

The sinkholes were concentrated along Mariner Boulevard from Marysville to Maderia streets, both in lawns and on Mariner Boulevard itself. The holes forced emergency workers to close that segment of Mariner and divert traffic. Repairs will begin today, but the road may stay closed over the weekend, county officials said.

No other houses were affected other than the Hunters', which was immediately condemned.

Officials said they were impressed not so much by the size of the holes, but by the number of them.

"I haven't ever experienced this (many) in the years I've been in Spring Hill," said Chief Michael Morgan of Spring Hill Fire Rescue.

In fact, after emergency workers arrived on the scene, more holes continued to open around them. Officials were forced to move their cars and rope off even more streets.

The biggest of the sinkholes -- 60 feet across and about 80 feet deep -- opened up east of Mariner, just north of Marysville, in a retention pond. Two neighborhood children, curious to see its size, road up on a bike to the edge before police shooed them away.

"It's pretty scary," said Marlon Reese, 13. "My mom is worried," added Joe Distfano, 13, who lives in a house bordering the hole. "She's afraid we'll have to move."

County officials say that will not be necessary.

"We don't want people to overreact," said county spokeswoman Brenda Frazier. "It isn't an imminent situation where all these houses are going to fall in."

Still, Frazier said that more sinkholes in the neighborhood are a good possibility given the area's history. Last year, the same segment of Mariner Boulevard had to be shut down because of sinkholes, and holes have appeared in the vicinity several times over the past few years.

County workers will use ground-penetrating radar today to survey Mariner Boulevard for further vulnerable spots.

Some residents complained they are growing tired of the annual ritual.

"It seems to happen every time we have a good rain," Ron Ledford said.

The reason the area is so prone to sinkholes has to do with the layer of clay in the region, officials said. Millions of years ago, the ebb and flow of seas wore down the layer of clay near the coast. Moving west through Spring Hill, the clay layer pinches out and thins. The thinner the layer of clay, the weaker the roof, and the more likely a sinkhole will occur.

The chances of a sinkhole also increase when a long period of drought is followed by a heavy rain. The ground acts like a sponge, swelling, shifting and in some cases caving in, Frazier said.

Brooksville and much of the eastern part of Hernando County are largely immune from sinkholes because of a thick layer of clay along a geological formation called the Brooksville Ridge. When sinkholes do occur in areas with thick clay, they are often much bigger than those in Spring Hill.

Overpumping of the water supply in the aquifer also can cause sinkholes, a Southwest Florida Water Management District report says.

Whatever the reason for the holes, neighbors say they hope to be spared.

"In the 35 years we've been here, we've been very, very fortunate," said Joe Burghaze, who lives on Mariner, adding that his family was one of the first to move to Spring Hill. "But you have no control over them. What can you do?"

-- Information from Times files was used in this report. Staff writer Jamie Malernee covers law enforcement and courts in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6114.

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