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Sinkhole swallows homes in Florida

A growing sinkhole in Florida that has already swallowed two houses is now threatening other residences, authorities said Friday afternoon.

Nine other houses have been evacuated in Land O’ Lakes, a residential area about 20 miles north of Tampa, Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant administrator for public safety, said at a news conference. Power has been cut to around 100 houses in the neighborhood.

Sheriff Chris Nocco said it’s impossible to say when the sinkhole will stop expanding.

“We can’t give a clear answer because this is Mother Nature,” he said. “We don’t know what direction the sinkhole’s going to go. We don’t know if it will make another sharp direction.”

The sheriff’s department was called Friday morning about a depression the size of a small pool that a boat was falling into. The depression quickly turned into a sinkhole and two houses slid into it, Guthrie said.

Video showed the houses breaking apart and falling into water as the sinkhole opened up beneath them.

By mid-afternoon, the sinkhole was about 250 by 225 feet and 50 feet deep, he said. He estimated the sinkhole grew by 25 feet to 30 feet per hour in the morning but had slowed by afternoon to 10 feet per hour. The ground around the houses felt soft and unsteady to the foot, he said.

“It’s not done,” he said.

Guthrie said until the sinkhole stops expanding, not much can be done.

“There’s so much debris in the sinkhole right now that the water’s not receding,” he said.

Guthrie said the houses were built on the site of another sinkhole that had been “remediated.”

The neighborhood uses septic tanks, not a sewer system — a worry since the sinkhole might grow so large it connects to a nearby lake, Guthrie said.

“We will have three if not four septic tanks that will start merging with the lake,” he said.

Nocco urged people to stay away from the neighborhood. A fence will be erected around the affected houses and roads will be closed, he said.

“This is going to be a couple of weeks, maybe a month-long operation,” Guthrie said.